POLITICS & ELECTIONS

Kyrsten Sinema announces she is retiring from the Senate

Mar 5, 2024, 3:19 PM | Updated: 3:53 pm

Kyrsten Sinema...

Sen Kyrsten Sinema, here talking to reporters on January 25, announced Tuesday that she will retire at the end of her term this year. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images via CNN)

(PHOENIX) — Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona independent, announced Tuesday she will leave the Senate at the end of her term this year, a move that will shake up the battle for control of the chamber in November and remove a key player who has been central to major negotiations in Congress.

Sinema has been an influential yet polarizing figure in the Senate and has frequently worked to broker compromise between Democrats and Republicans. In announcing her decision not to seek reelection, the Arizona senator said, “I believe in my approach, but it’s not what America wants right now.”

Sinema’s decision takes her out of the fight for her seat in an extremely competitive state. Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona and former Arizona Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake are among the most closely watched candidates in the Senate race.

The race in Arizona will be one of the most important in November for determining the majority in the Senate. The state voted for President Joe Biden by a slim margin of less than one percentage point in 2020.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer endorsed Gallego in the race following Sinema’s announcement that she will retire. “We are fully behind his candidacy and look forward to winning this race with him in 2024 and defeating Kari Lake,” Schumer said of Gallego.

Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, who chairs the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, argued to CNN that Sinema’s decision not to run for reelection will help Lake’s candidacy.

“I wasn’t surprised by that announcement. And the polling shows that it actually gives somewhat of an advantage to Kari Lake, in all the polling we’ve done,” Daines said. “So it gives us another great opportunity, another open seat on the Senate map.”

Sinema, a former representative for Arizona’s 9th District, was elected to the Senate in 2018 and formally left the Democratic Party in 2022 to register as a political independent. She told CNN’s Jake Tapper at the time, “I’ve never fit neatly into any party box. I’ve never really tried. I don’t want to.”

Most recently, Sinema served as a key negotiator, along with Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma and Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, for a major bipartisan border deal that was intended to be paired with a foreign aid package with assistance for Ukraine and Israel.

Senate Republicans initially demanded that any foreign aid package be passed along with border measures, but ultimately turned against the border deal and blocked it amid harsh criticism of the package from former President Donald Trump. The Senate went on to pass a foreign aid package with aid for Ukraine and Israel without border provisions, but House Speaker Mike Johnson has said he does not plan to bring the bill to the floor and many House Republicans oppose further aid for Ukraine.

During her time in the Senate, Sinema frequently won praise from Republicans – and drew the ire of outside progressive groups who viewed her as too conservative.

GOP Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina said in a statement, “The Senate will greatly miss Senator Sinema’s strong bipartisan leadership.”

Tillis went on to say, “Elected officials like Senator Sinema are becoming a dying breed: true leaders who are focused on doing what’s best for our country and getting results for the people they serve instead of feeding the rabid partisans of their base with empty platitudes, false promises, and excuses for getting nothing done.”

Asked to react to Sinema’s decision shortly after it was announced, the White House called the Arizona independent senator a “partner.”

“Look, we have had opportunities to work closely with the senator on some really key important bills,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters at a press briefing. “She was one of the leading negotiators on the border security bill that came out of the Senate in a bipartisan way. We appreciate it, her efforts on that.”

Jean-Pierre continued, “She’s been a partner with us on many critical issues that matter to the American people.”

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Kyrsten Sinema announces she is retiring from the Senate