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Departure: Sinema leaves Democrats, the sky is blue, Arizona is hot

What the Devil won't tell you

Departure: Sinema leaves Democrats, the sky is blue, Arizona is hot

That moment when 'breaking news' isn't really a surprise at all

  • U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is no longer a Democrat. She was just passing through the party, anyway. (Sinema speaks during a 
Finance Committee hearing, Oct. 19, 2021)
    Rod Lamkey/Pool photoU.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is no longer a Democrat. She was just passing through the party, anyway. (Sinema speaks during a Finance Committee hearing, Oct. 19, 2021)

News flash: U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema pulls an attention-seeking move to make herself so much more super-important. Or not.

And my hot take on this breaking news is: Eyeroll. Of course she did.

I mean, what do we say about a woman who wants us to keep talking about her so she can tell us to "Fuck off"?

Here's a new phrase for the kids: Reciprocate.

She told CNN after her announcement: “I’ve never fit neatly into any party box. I don’t want to. Removing myself from the partisan structure — not only is it true to who I am and how I operate, I also think it’ll provide a place of belonging for many folks across the state and the country, who also are tired of the partisanship.”

OK, hold on. Didn't she start her career as an agitprop socialist? Yes. Yes. She did. Then in the state Legislature and U.S. House she was a pretty reliable liberal, who occasionally pissed off the base. 

Now that she's a fancy-pants U.S. senator, she has specialized in being a pain to the people who worked so hard to elect her. She prioritized Senate comity over voting rights for Americans. She killed off major parts of President Joe Biden's agenda without any real explanation to anyone. Then she referred to voters as "children" who shouldn't get everything they want. She did it on stage a few feet from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at the McConnell Center on the University of Kentucky campus. 

Hedge fund and private equity fund managers on the other hand, are the chosen ones who require constant pampering.

Sinema's departure from the Democrats doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense other than as a massive attention grab. The move has some marginal policy and political implications. It says more about how she has managed to define herself as an elitist moderate out of touch with the voters.

To caucus or not to caucus

Let's start with policy.

Who is Sinema going to caucus with? Independents still hook up with one of the parties for purposes of meeting, planning — and the size of the caucus determines who has the majority and thus control of committees and investigations.

Independents Angus King and Bernie Sanders caucus with Democrats and provide them their 50th and 51st votes in the Senate. That's if Sinema keeps joining in Democrats' reindeer games. Senators have to caucus with someone to assure committee assignments.

All indications are that she will stick with Democrats for now. So Democrats now have to tend to her needs to avoid a "power-sharing" agreement with Republicans.

Power-sharing is what would be required of a 50-50 Senate and it mean the committees are all chaired by Democrats but their membership is evenly divided. It slows things down because the full Senate must override a deadlocked committee. 

It's not necessary for Democrats to run the Senate or get legislation passed. 

Democrats have a 51-49 advantage in the Senate with Sinema. Without her, in a 50-50 Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris still casts the tie-breaking vote. 

So at worst, Democrats are back to where they have been since 2021. During that time, they passed through the Senate a massive COVID-19 relief package, landmark climate investments, massive infrastructure programs and a bill to bring tech jobs back home from overseas.

Once Democrats lost the House (even by just a few seats), they lost the ability to get much legislation done.

The thing that will kill new bills in Congress is the Hastert Rule – not Sinema's flightiness. The GOP's Hastert Rule (and why they continue to use the name tied to child molester and "groomer" Dennis Hastert is beyond me) requires half the Republican caucus to support a bill for the speaker to let it on the floor. So a bill with clear majority support won't even get a vote if the Republican fringe doesn't like it.

I hate to burst anyone's bubble but any possibility of passing progressive legislation ended when the GOP got to 218 seats in the House. 

Senate confirmation remains doable and that's the only game in town. Joe Biden can continue to ram through judges. 

Also, so long as Sinema doesn't attach herself to Republicans as an independent, Biden will still be able to move nominees through the upper chamber and to their new desks.

If she does decide to become a Republican in all but name, it means delays because – again – the full Democratic slate can vote those nominees out of committee from the Senate floor.

The two major pieces of legislation that will define the next two years will be: 1) Does the U.S. continue to fund Ukraine's resistance to Russia and 2) Does Congress smash the American economy into a million pieces by refusing to raise the debt ceiling?

Sinema is almost certainly a yes vote for both.

Rough politics for Gallego

Get one idea out of your head. She will not run for office as a Republican. Sinema has a 100-percent approval rating from abortion rights groups and twice voted to remove Donald Trump from office. 

It's not clear Sinema is running for re-election. If she is, I think U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego has had a bad day. 

The Phoenix Democrat has been clear about his desire to challenge her in a primary and was the odds on favorite to win the nomination.

As a Democrat with a two-way general election race, I liked his chances against another MAGA type. Gallego might be seen as "too liberal" by some of the DC pundits.

He's a former U.S. Marine, who led men into combat and comes off like a regular guy, who has mocked super-progs tendencies to do things like say "Latinx." He doesn't come off like a radical. 

Gallego would stand a pretty good shot in a shifting state. That's especially true if he's facing an acolyte of GOP chairwoman Kelli Ward (or Ward, herself). 

With a three-person field, his chances likely diminish. Democrats are winning in Arizona with Republican crossover support. Enough of that crossover support would likely go to Sinema to ruin his chances.

Gallego's fundraising would have involved little more than backing up the truck for small-dollar donors had he run as a progressive alternative to Sinema in a Democratic primary. I don't think $100 million in dribs and drabs would have been a stretch, considering Jamie Harrison got $130 million for his South Carolina run against U.S. Lindsay Graham.

His fundraising gets a lot harder if he's seen as a Democrat running in a three-way who can't win the general.

Gaming out the politics will be hard to decipher until her 2024 re-election gets hot.

Two of her U.S. Senate colleagues are registered independents. Vermont's Bernie Sanders and Maine's Angus King were both popular in their states with their own (yes, it's a cliché, but) brands.

People in those states knew both and liked them. Alaska's Lisa Murkowski won her 2010 re-election bid as a write in independent. How much do voters have to like her to write in the name "M-U-R-K-O-W-S-K-I?"

Sinema? Doesn't have that kind of love. An August Data For Progress poll showed her overall approval at 42 percent. Her "strongly approve" number was 6 percent. That was from Democrats. Adjusted for the full electorate her number was 17 percent.

I don't know. I don't like that math if I'm her.

Let's assume her new base are independents. According to a 2019 Pew Research poll, independents still tend to lean one way or another. Only 7 percent of the electorate are truly up for grabs.

Most independents who say they don't care about party one way or another don't ... what's the term? Oh, that's it: Vote.

Here's my best guess: She's heard from enough big dollar donors about hopes and wishes for a "purple party." This is the pro-choice, marriage equality crowd who still wants an oligarchy. They just don't want to be gosh about it.

That may be 45 percent of Democratic and Wall Street money bags, but it's no groundswell.

Whom she should have been talking to

Now we get to Sinema's problem. Who is she talking to and taking advice from?

She's basically sealed herself off in her own little bubble, where everyone wears Jimmy Choo pumps or Italian loafers.

Her refusal to speak to voters gives her a bad sense of what they are thinking. Polls don't say everything.

Sinema doesn't hold town halls. She doesn't talk to the media. She finally "opened" an office in Tucson, but it's never actually open. She doesn't even talk to constituents who approach her in public.

Arizona's senior senator has basically told her voters to leave her alone. She's got hedge fund managers and Harvard Club members. Why does she need regular Arizonans?


She doesn't seem to like people and that's a strange attribute for a politician. Georgia Congresswoman and Bulldog crackpot Marjorie Taylor Green seems to like her people. Who are Sinema's people?

Sinema was also quietly making a case for herself to be the Democratic nominee and beat Gallego outright and start with a base of 40 percent.

She was a key player in getting the infrastructure deal through, marriage equality protections are largely the result of her work and at the end of the process she did support President Biden's key policy initiatives.

It's all just so strange because her policy positions are largely defensible in a rational way, even if you don't concur. She said she refused the corporate tax rate because it might make the U.S. less attractive for investments. I take issue but it's a stance that's not nuts. 

She could have confronted progressives about her refusal to budge on the filibuster with a simple "you realize you've owned unified control of government for only six of the last 30 years, right? Compared to eight years for Republicans?"

Again, someone like me could make arguments a-plenty as to why she's full of it but Sinema is a super-smart cookie. She could handle herself.

It just required her doing what she doesn't want to do and sell her achievements to her voters.

That's just not her and she doesn't seem to want to change.

Is she in a New York state of mind?

The not-so-outside the  box take her Sinema's bolting the Democrats is that she's really in this D.C. thing to feather her nest with dollars after her term is up.

She may just want a penthouse on Park Avenue in New York and not a better office in the Hart Senate Office building. If and when she loses, corporate and Wall Street types will thank her with seats on boards or cushy C-suite job.

That actually makes more sense and explains her vote to protect private equity and hedge funds.

It's hard to get inside her head because not letting anyone know what she's thinking is a hallmark of her term.

Democrat? Republican? Independent? Who knows what she is today. We're all paying attention to her and I think she likes that – so long as no one gets too close or asks any questions.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist, who worked in daily journalism for nearly 25 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things even the Devil himself won’t.

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