Sinema Explains Why She’s Gone Independent; Bernie Sanders Is Not Thrilled

Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, as we reported Friday, has left the Democrat Party and officially registered as an Independent. Much like Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, she is expected to continue to caucus with Democrats in the Senate.

That’s something Sinema confirmed when she sat down in an exclusive interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, which began airing Friday on “The Lead.”

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: For the Democrats in the Senate, having 51 votes versus 50 votes means the committees, they have more control over their committees. It means they have subpoena power. It means they’ll have an easier time getting judges through and other federal nominations.

What you’re doing today will not change that, because that is an important part of governance and the Senate?

SINEMA: Nothing about my decision to registration as an independent will change the way that I show up to committees or the way that I show up to the Senate.

The host asked in the final part that aired on Sunday’s “State of the Union,” about the other Independents, and whether her change of party affiliation was inspired by anyone else:

TAPPER: There are two independents who already caucus with the Democrats, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine.

Lisa Murkowski, who is a Republican, but ran in a previous election as an independent, is also somebody who whose independence is noted.

Are those three models at all for what you’re doing? Are there other independents, Teddy Roosevelt in the Bull Moose Party? Is there anyone you look to as a — as a guide, as a mentor, as a role model when it comes to what you’re doing?

SINEMA: You know, Jake, it probably won’t surprise you when I tell you I’m not trying to be like anyone else.

What I’m trying to do is be true to my values and the values of my state. So, I think everyone should make their own decisions about where they fit or where they don’t fit. I’m going to keep doing exactly what I do, which is just stay focused on the work and ignore all the noise.

She expanded on the “noise” in an answer to another question, in which Tapper dutifully listed all of the most progressive issues Sinema supports, including “expanding health care access, abortion rights, LGBTQ rights, path for dreamers, and on and on, environmentalism, green energy.”

Sinema said “what’s important to [her] is to not be — to not be tethered by the partisanship that dominates politics today.”

She continued:

I think Americans are tired of it. I think Arizonans are tired of it. What I’m interested in is working on all those issues that you just mentioned that I care deeply about, and that I believe my constituents care deeply about.

But despite all of the complaints from Sinema about partisanship and gridlock by both parties, one of her goals in the next Congress appears to be a wrongheaded push for a dead-on-arrival bill, with a lethal combo of border security and amnesty for DREAMers. Sinema began: (emphasis mine)

Well, as a native Arizonan who was born and raised near the Southern border, I can tell you unequivocally that the federal government has failed its duty in the last 40 years.

TAPPER: Not just Democrats.

SINEMA: Not — it’s just everyone. The federal government has failed here.

And places like Arizona, front lines of this crisis, have been paying the price every single day since then. So, for us, this isn’t just a talking point of team A vs. team B. This is our life every day.

The reality is, is that, when folks say we have got to just provide a legal path to citizenship for dreamers, which I support wholeheartedly — these kids are Americans in all but name. So, when folks say, we have got to do that, I agree. And when folks say we have got to secure the border, of course, I agree.

My state is suffering from the failure to do so for 40 years. So, this is a perfect example of why I’m so frustrated with partisanship that has gripped our nation, and the parties are pulling folks away. It’s not either/or. It’s and.

Both of those concerns are real and valid. And we, as a government, have a duty to solve both of those concerns.

On Sunday’s “State of the Union” program, Sen. Sanders was asked by host Dana Bash about what he thinks of Sinema dropping the Democrats.

He began by insisting “he [doesn’t] want to spend a whole lot of time” addressing the topic, and that “[Sinema] has her reasons,” hinting that he means electoral realities in the Grand Canyon state. My colleague Cameron Arcand analyzed some potential scenarios on that, after Sinema’s announcement Friday. (see: Sinema’s Departure from Democrats Paves Way for 3-Way Senate Race)

But Bernie found much more to say about Sinema and the Senate seat:

I think the Democrats there [in Arizona] are not all that enthusiastic about somebody who helped sabotage some of the most important legislation that protects the interests of working families and voting rights and so forth. So, I think it really has to do with her political aspirations for the future in Arizona.

He also refused to say he wouldn’t support a Democrat challenger to the left of Sinema, whom he called “a corporate Democrat,” while managing to wedge in an attack on West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin:

I don’t — I support progressive candidates all over this country, people who have the guts to take on powerful special interests.

I don’t know what’s going to be happening in Arizona. We will see who they nominate. But, certainly, that’s something I will take a hard look at.

BASH: Does she have the guts to take on powerful special interests?

SANDERS: No, she doesn’t. She is a corporate Democrat who has, in fact, along with Senator Manchin, sabotaged enormously important legislation.

Back to Sinema’s interview. During the Friday segment of the Tapper interview, he asked her whether she’s committed to supporting Joe Biden for a reelection bid. Here’s how that went-and could be a taste of what’s to come between my state’s senior senator and the Democrats:

TAPPER: Looking forward to 2024, will you support Joe Biden for president if he runs?

SINEMA: Folks know this about me, I don’t talk much about partisan politics and I don’t talk much about elections —

TAPPER: He ran in 2020 and you supported him.

SINEMA: Yes, I did. I felt at the time he was the best candidate running for president.

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