By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
Although U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis doesn’t expect Sen. Krysten Sinema, I-Arizona, to change her politics after announcing a departure from the Democratic Party last week, she does expect more centrist legislation to come out of the Senate than in the previous session.
“Having a Republican House will change the way that Democrat senators have to legislate because if they want to get something passed, it’s going to have to be much more centrist than some of the very left-leaning legislation that they got passed over the last two years when they had control of everything,” she said.
Election Day Fallout
It’s an optimistic perspective given the numbers for the incoming U.S. Senate.
Republicans lost, not gained, a seat for the upcoming session, reverting from a 50-50 split to a 51-49 minority. The riptide of a “red wave” never materialized on Election Day.
Instead of a one-seat gain or a holding of the line in the Senate as many expected, the midterm elections became a simmering pot of mixed emotions and outcomes.
GOP gains were made in the U.S. House, but not nearly as seismic as predicted. Democrats mostly held onto their longtime strongholds, but did so while withstanding surprisingly stiff efforts from Republicans.
Lummis argues that the House, where Republicans did take back a majority, will trigger a legislative shift to the right for the Senate. She also believes relationships built with swing-vote Democrats over the last session will help with this effort.
“Certainly, that work will pay off,” she said.
One of the most notable examples of this was the bipartisan legislation Lummis crafted with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, for digital asset reform.
Sinema ‘The Same Person I’ve Always Known’
Lummis and Sinema also have a relationship, working together for six years on Capitol Hill. They served in the House at the same time from 2013-2017 before their eventual moves to the Senate, where Lummis has served since 2021.
The two recently performed a colloquy together when explaining their legal interpretations of the Respect for Marriage Act, which codified the right to same-sex marriage into federal law.
“She continues to be the same person I’ve always known. Very independent-minded, very smart, very willing to work on both sides of the aisle,” Lummis said. “I think she’s true to herself, so I don’t think we’ll see a big change from her in how she votes.”
Despite her party change, Lummis still believes Sinema is more closely aligned with Democrats than Republicans.
But Sinema’s abrupt switch to Independent still serves as a political consolation for Republicans. The Arizona senator has always been viewed as one of the most moderate Democrats, but the recent decision cements that position and could possibly lead to even less fealty between her and Democrats.
What About Manchin?
In a similar camp is Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, who hasn’t left the Democratic Party yet, but also wouldn’t rule out such a move in the future while speaking to reporters Monday.
“I’m not a Washington Democrat, I don’t know what to tell you,” Manchin said, according to ABC News. “But I have a lot of friends who aren’t Washington Republicans, and if a Washington independent is, as I said, more comfortable, you know we’ll see what happens there, we’ll have to look.
“People were registering more for Independents than any party affiliation. They are sick and tired of it.”
In 2021, Manchin threatened to switch affiliation to Independent when fellow Senate Democrats expressed displeasure with his policy positions.
Manchin has been an outspoken critic of President Joe Biden and has not committed to supporting him for a 2024 presidential run. The two have sparred mostly on energy issues, as Manchin represents the coal-rich state of West Virginia.
Expects A Productive Session
Lummis said decorum of the U.S. Senate has improved drastically since 2020 and she’s optimistic about the upcoming session being a productive one.
The previous 117th Congress began on the heels of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection, a time when she said political vitriol was at an all-time high.
“It felt like being in prison,” Lummis said. “Democrats were truly hateful. You could feel the hatred in the air.”
Armed National Guard members flanked the Capitol for months after Jan. 6, and large fences were constructed where previously there were none.
Lummis said with the heightened security, a general sense of unease and distrust also pervaded the grounds.
“It’s a very different atmosphere now,” she said. “I’m looking forward to all the opportunities that will present themselves in the next two years.”