Following Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock’s runoff victory over Republican Herschel Walker in Georgia, Democrats in the U.S. Senate and President Joe Biden breathe a collective sigh.
So did Vice President Kamala Harris, who figured she no longer had to hang around Washington when there were close votes in the Senate.
For two years, Harris acted as the tie-breaking vote in the evenly split upper chamber. As a result, she’s already participated in a record number of tie-breaking votes on legislation.
But two days after Warnock’s victory, Democrats came down to earth a bit when Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema declared that she’s switched parties and would be an Independent.
Suddenly, the 51-49 advantage for Democrats proved more of a 50-49 edge with Sinema in doubt.
Dreams of Democrats with majority control of Senate committees and members being able to quickly push through crucial federal court nominations appear dashed.
With Sinema’s defection, two years of West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin obstructing Biden’s agenda likely continues.
The rebellion also threatens Democrats’ chances of holding power in 2024 when Senate races occur in Republican-leaning states like West Virginia, Ohio, and Montana.
“This is the start of a two-year-long headache for Sen. Schumer,” Jim Manley, a former top aide to the late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), told The Hill.
“I don’t envy what he is going to have to do to keep on board with the Democratic agenda, but as long as he keeps open the line of communication, it could work.”
Critics immediately seized on Sinema throwing cold water on Warnock’s win and Democrats’ hope.
After all, before Sinema’s sudden defection, Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York remarked, “With 51 [Democratic Senators], we can go bolder and quicker – to show Americans what Democrats stand for.”
“Apparently, ‘independent’ is the new way to say, ‘corporate lobbyist,’” tweeted radio host Dean Obeidallah.
“Sinema owes her entire career to the Democratic Party, she’s been endlessly indulged by party leadership, but she waits till a moment of celebration for the Democrats to make this announcement,” he said.
“Like I’ve said before, it goes way beyond politics or ideology — she’s just awful.”
Critics have pointed out that Sinema, along with Manchin, has acted against the interest of Democrats during the current 50-50 senate composition.
She opposed Biden’s Build Back Better agenda and stubbornly refused to help push through vital pieces of legislation by refusing to weaken archaic and racist filibuster rules.
Others have pointed out that while Republican Senators broke filibuster rules and pushed through U.S. Supreme Court judges for former President Donald Trump, Sinema has even suggested nominees at the judicial and administration levels require 60 Senate votes.
“America has no higher minimum wage, no extended child tax credits, and no voting rights protections because of Kyrsten Sinema,” Obeidallah asserted.
However, Schumer and Biden have insisted they can still count on Sinema.
“Kyrsten is independent; that’s how she’s always been,” Schumer said in a statement.
“I believe she’s a good and effective senator. I am looking forward to a productive session in the new Democratic majority Senate,” continued Schumer, who previously called the prospect of a 51-49 majority “a world of difference.”
“We will maintain our new majority on committees, exercise our subpoena power, and be able to clear nominees without discharge votes,” Schumer pleaded.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre suggested that Sinema’s flip would not affect the balance of power in the Senate or her working relationship with Biden.
“Sen. Sinema has been a key partner on some of the historic legislation President Biden has championed over the last 20 months,” Jean-Pierre said.
“We have every reason to expect that we will continue to work successfully with her.”
PBS News correspondent Lisa Desjardins tweeted that a Sinema spokesperson said Sinema “intends to maintain her committee assignments through the Democratic majority.”
Still, in the aftermath of Warnock’s win in Georgia, Democrats’ hold on the Senate remains tenuous, and Schumer expressed his understanding of that fact.
“There are a good number of Republicans in the Senate and the House who are not MAGA Republicans – who know that, if the Republican Party follows the hard right and the extreme members in their caucuses, they’ll continue to lose ground,” Schumer offered. “I intend to reach out to them and say, ‘How we can how can we work in a bipartisan way?’”