Mar 7, 2024

Kyrsten Sinema retires.

Kyrsten Sinema retires.
Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema in 2018. Image: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

What does that tell us about Congress?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 12 minutes.

Kyrsten Sinema is headed for retirement. What does that tell us about Congress? Also, a reader question on how we pick our stories.

An important story tomorrow.

Last Friday, we published an opinion piece from Tangle's founder and CEO Isaac Saul titled "The Zionist case for a ceasefire." Despite being a Friday edition, we made the piece public and shared it with all of our readers. As we expected, there was a massive response.

In a members-only Friday edition tomorrow, we are going to share some reader responses from folks who disagreed with Isaac, he’ll respond to some of the feedback, and we’ll share some updates on the piece. All of our subscribers will get a free preview, but as is typical, the full Friday edition will be available to Tangle members only.

Quick hits.

  1. President Joe Biden will deliver his third State of the Union address tonight at 9 p.m. ET. (The speech)
  2. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who said he is stepping down from the role later this year, endorsed former president Donald Trump for president. (The endorsement)
  3. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. says he has secured enough signatures to get on the ballots in Georgia, Nevada and Arizona as a third-party candidate, three states that President Biden won by a combined 60,000 votes in 2020. (The ballots) Separately, Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) ended his bid for the Democratic nomination. (The decision
  4. The House passed a $460 billion, six-part spending package to keep several government agencies open for the remainder of the budget year. (The bill)
  5. Three people were killed and six were injured in the Red Sea in an attack on a commercial shipping vessel by the Yemeni Houthi rebels. These are the first deaths associated with Houthi attacks. (The attacks)

Today's topic.

Kyrsten Sinema. On Wednesday, the Democrat-turned independent senator from Arizona announced she would not run for re-election. Sinema, often heralded as one of the most bipartisan senators in Congress, announced her decision in a video posted to X, where she criticized the state of the Senate and extremism in both parties.

"It’s all or nothing. The outcome is less important than beating the other guy,” she said. “The only political victories that matter these days are symbolic. … Compromise is a dirty word. We’ve arrived at that crossroad and we chose anger and division. I believe in my approach, but it’s not what America wants right now."

Sinema's decision brings some clarity to what could have been a three-way Arizona Senate race between the independent Sinema, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D), and Republican Kari Lake. Each candidate has a significant public profile and plenty of cash on hand, but Sinema’s exit tilts the race in Gallego’s favor.

Sinema hasn't made her post-Congress plans clear, but she's long said she isn't worried about re-election and wouldn't have trouble finding work outside the Senate. While Sinema is unpopular in Arizona, her endorsement in Arizona’s Senate and statewide races is likely to be heavily courted by candidates from both parties looking to win over moderates.

In the Senate, Sinema had a reputation for working across the aisle and legislating from the middle. She was central to bipartisan negotiations that led to legislation on gun control, infrastructure, and the Respect for Marriage Act. She helped negotiate reforms to the Electoral Count Reform Act, which was designed to prevent another incident like January 6 and clarified the Senate's role in elections. She was also at the center of negotiations on proposed immigration reforms like the bill that was blocked by Republicans in the Senate last month.

On Twitter, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy (CT) shared a story emblematic of Sinema's reputation, in which she insisted Murphy not move on from negotiations with Republicans to close the so-called "boyfriend loophole" in a gun control bill. In the end, Sinema got enough Republicans on board to make it happen, even after Murphy had given up.

Conversely, Sinema has often drawn the ire of progressive Democrats and Republicans alike. She angered progressives by refusing to make changes to the filibuster that would have allowed Democrats to codify abortion and voting rights with their one-vote majority, by helping block tax hikes on wealthy investors in the Inflation Reduction Act, and perhaps most famously by rejecting a federal minimum wage hike to $15 an hour with a thumbs down and a curtsy.

For the right, many view Sinema, once a Green Party activist herself, as a wolf in sheep's clothing who poses as a moderate despite having the Democratic party's interests in mind. Despite her disagreements with progressives, many Republicans are quick to note that she votes with Democrats 94% of the time and argue that her decision to retire was expressly done to help the Democratic party.

Today, we're going to examine some reactions from the right and left to Sinema's decision to leave, and what it might mean for the future of the Senate.

What the right is saying.

  • The right worries that Sinema’s exit imperils the future of the filibuster. 
  • Some say Sinema was effectively forced out of politics by Arizona Democrats.
  • Others say her exit is one of many showing how polarized our politics have become. 

National Review’s editors wrote about “Sinema’s exit and the perilous future of the filibuster.” 

“Sinema was, by many measures, a progressive member of the Senate… But she had her limits,” the editors said. “The Arizona senator would not get on board with Biden’s signature $3.5 trillion Build Back Better proposal and consistently fought off the Jacobins in her caucus who have pushed radical ideas such as packing the Supreme Court. Perhaps above all, she drew the anger of left-wing activists for her steadfast refusal to blow up the filibuster.”

“Beyond the immediate electoral implications, a longer-term consequence is that Sinema’s exit… means yet another defender of the filibuster is leaving the Senate,” the editors added. “If Biden gets reelected with a Democratic Senate, conservatives can no longer count on Manchin and Sinema to hold the line against efforts from the Left to do away with the filibuster.”

In PJ Media, Matt Margolis suggested “the real reason why Sinema isn’t seeking reelection.”

“There’s no justification for Sinema to pat herself on the back for being a centrist. The media may call her a centrist or an independent, but she is a leftist, through and through. Yet, she managed to get elected in a red state. Her crossover appeal was due to a few select objections to the Biden agenda, which was necessary if she had any chance of getting reelected in 2024,” Margolis wrote. 

“Had Arizona Democrats not forced her to change her party affiliation to independent, Sinema likely would have won reelection as a Democrat by peeling off a small but consequential number of Republican voters. She would have been a tough candidate to beat in the general election in 2024 had she not been forced to leave her party,” Margolis said. “Despite Sinema's rhetoric, it was Arizona Democrats who forced her retirement from the Senate.”

In The Spectator, Jon Gabriel said Sinema leaves behind “a divided Arizona.”

Sinema’s decision “isn’t the biggest shock, considering Americans’ current aversion to conversation and compromise,” Gabriel wrote. “Sinema joins a long list of frustrated Republicans and Democrats abandoning elective office to the cable-news shouters and ineffectual ideologues. Her own position was previously vacated by Senator Jeff Flake, who couldn’t get a hearing during the Trump era.

“Her likely replacement will better fit the angry public mood, whoever wins. Republicans will nominate failed gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake,” while “Gallego seems an odd fit for Arizona since his progressive views are more in line with the Squad than an average Democrat,” Gabriel said. “In ordinary times, Sinema would still be a Democrat and remain the strong favorite… But it doesn’t take a master strategist to know these are not ordinary times.”

What the left is saying.

  • The left is mixed in its reaction to Sinema’s announcement, with some praising her track record in Congress as a dealmaker.
  • Others deride her as an ally to corporate interests and the wealthy. 
  • Some think her exit from the race will boost Gallego. 

The Arizona Republic editorial board said “love her or hate her, Kyrsten Sinema's Senate departure hurts Arizona.”

“Sinema has been a meaningful force in the few landmark legislations that Congress has mustered in recent years,” including Biden’s infrastructure bill, gun safety legislation, and the Inflation Reduction Act. “Sinema was at the center of them all, a broker who worked with and persuaded Republicans to assure passage,” the board wrote. But “progressive Democrats will say good riddance.”

“No doubt Sinema brought some of the heat on herself. As a condition of her support of the Inflation Reduction Act, she refused to end the so-called carried interest tax loophole that enables uber-rich private equity and hedge fund managers to pay lower taxes. Sinema benefited greatly from Wall Street political contributions before and after the legislation,” the board said. “Like her or not, however, Sinema is consequential. Her term has been unquestionably impactful. And her position as a centrist and a broker will be sorely missed.”

In New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait wrote “good riddance, Kyrsten Sinema, plutocratic shill.”

“Sinema is not the only member of Congress who has been involved in legislation with both parties. But she is the only Democrat who incinerated her political career because the causes she chose to fight for are substantively awful and deeply unpopular,” Chait said. “Sinema opposed letting the government negotiate the cost of Medicare prescription drugs, ultimately conceding to allow a dramatically smaller version of the reform Biden wanted. Even more amazing, she took a hard line against tax increases on the wealthy.”

“The obvious reason she adopted these deeply unpopular positions on prescription-drug pricing and taxing the wealthy is almost certainly that she came to believe them. She seemed to grow close to the ultrawealthy and was an easy mark for even their most transparently unsound arguments,” Chait added. “There is plenty of room in the Democratic Party for a bipartisan dealmaker, and Sinema’s sob story should not deter anybody from pursuing that profile. There’s no room for a transparent shill for the self-serving rich.”

In Public Notice, Noah Berlatsky suggested “Sinema dropping out is great news for Dems in general and Ruben Gallego in particular.”

“Sinema spent her Senate career since her election in 2018 running resolutely to the center and right; she refused to support Biden’s call for a filibuster carve out for abortion rights,” Berlatsky wrote. “Sinema had a unique ability to draw ire from all parts of the political spectrum… She hoped she might have a path to victory as an Independent, but polls in three-way contests showed her trailing both Democratic and Republican opponents.”

“Democrat Gallego was ahead in most of those match-ups. He’s been running effectively against Sinema for much of her term in preparation for a potential primary,” Berlatsky said. “Gallego is about the best candidate Democrats could hope for, and Lake is about the worst Republican her party could find. Still, three-way contests are volatile, and Sinema could have made the contest a trickier win for Democrats. Her decision to drop out boosts Gallego. It’s probably the most popular thing she’s done in her entire Senate term.”

My take.

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  • There’s plenty to criticize Sinema for, especially on her demeanor and comportment.
  • As far as her accomplishments go there’s also a lot to credit her for, and her retirement from the Senate is a big loss.
  • The messages coming from moderates like Sinema who are leaving Congress are very troubling.

Kysten Sinema’s time in the Senate has received plenty of reasonable criticism.

There are things about her I personally find grating or immature, like her celebratory reactions to defying her own caucus. She also has tangible issues, like spending an ungodly amount of taxpayer money on private air travel. She seemed to be a bit megalomaniacal as a boss, with reports she'd demand her staff fix her internet or buy her groceries. I don't like that she very rarely talks to or engages with the press. Jonathan Chait (under “What the left is saying”) made a good argument that she’s acted like a "plutocratic shill." And like many others (and as I already hinted), I didn't like the dramatic thumbs down on a vote about an issue as significant as the minimum wage. I think it symbolized the dismissive way she’s treated some of her voters, similar to when she changed her party affiliation in the middle of a term, and on net she seemed to enjoy bringing a certain attitude to her work that I don't think was helpful. Taken together, all these things shed some light on why she is so disliked across party lines in Arizona.

But here's the reality: Kyrsten Sinema actually does her job.

She legislates. She finds compromise. She makes things happen. She exemplifies an increasingly rare breed of senator who actually moves the needle on important legislation, a great deal of which has been sensible.

The bipartisan immigration bill she helped negotiate would have done more good than bad. The infrastructure bill she helped get passed is so popular that even politicians who didn't vote for it are now taking credit for it. The reforms to the Electoral Count Act were, actually, the right kind of response to January 6 (unlike trying to remove Trump from the ballot using the 14th Amendment). And I still believe she was right to resist blowing up the filibuster, a decision that I think has been vindicated by just how much this Congress has done during Biden’s term (thanks in large part to Sinema) with it in place.

I actually think it says a great deal about Sinema that on the day she retires, right-wing firebrands like Kari Lake and diehard Democratic loyalists like Chris Murphy are both willing to go to bat for her, knowing they'll draw the ire of the online mob and their supporters. I struggle to think of any serving politician who can draw that kind of response from their peers these days.

Just as I said when Mitt Romney retired, there aren't a lot of people like Sinema left in Congress. Some of the reasons Romney was unique are the same reasons Sinema is: She is willing to live in open dissent with her party leadership, she is a moderate, and she is pragmatic enough to make friends and work with the "other side." Sinema also stands out for being willing to change her views, which most people frame as a negative because she's moved in a direction they don't like. Personally, I think it's actually refreshing to see a politician evolve in ways that aren’t designed to be advantageous for their political futures.

In this era of Twitter politicians who are more obsessed with posting memes and dunking on their opponents for social media clout than writing actual legislation, people like Romney and Sinema were doing real work. I think it is unambiguously a bad thing that fewer and fewer of them are serving in Congress.

I also found Sinema's parting shots quite frightening. Plenty of writers are casting her reasons for leaving as concocted and self-serving, but they sound a lot like the reasons given by dozens of other members of Congress who have retired this year: The institution is becoming too extremist, divided, polarized, and unprofessional to get any meaningful work done. Let me underline that point: The number of members who are saying this while they leave is genuinely startling. It worries me, and it should worry you, too.

I don't agree with Sinema on everything, obviously. I understand why some people don't find her style or approach very appealing, and I think she’s opened herself up to plenty of legitimate criticisms. But given where we are as a country, I also think losing her is bad for Congress, bad for us, and a bad sign of where things are heading.

Take the poll: What do you think of Kyrsten Sinema’s legacy? Let us know!

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Your questions, answered.

Q: How do you pick the quotes you include? Sometimes they're from the mainstream and sometimes they are from sources I've never heard of. When you include the 'fringier' sources, does that mean the mainstream sources aren't saying the same thing?

— Mary from Falmouth, MA

Tangle: That’s a good question. We pick the sources we cite because we want to share the best arguments that represent the whole range of opinion on a given topic. 

After reading through editorials and opinion pieces from across the political spectrum and from a huge span of news outlets, we get a good understanding of what that range of opinion is. And since the right and left aren’t monoliths, that means sampling the sub-groups from within each side: The never-Trump Republicans and the anti-establishment left, the hardcore MAGA right and the progressive socialists, the Reaganite conservatives and the establishment liberals, and on and on. Once we see how each group is aligning themselves into different kinds of opinions, then we pick the articles we believe articulate those positions the best.

Take the Supreme Court ruling on Trump’s eligibility, for example: We noticed that we could roughly categorize the right’s reactions into three buckets: Enthusiastic about the Supreme Court’s decision, supportive of the decision but suspicious of their logic, then outright critical of the majority’s argument. We chose pieces from Newsweek, National Review, and The New York Times because they represented those viewpoints in a convincing and articulate way.

You’re right that we often link to lesser known outlets. But we usually don’t do that because all the other major players are making similar points. More often than not, it just means that a lesser-known writer just made the case in a way we thought was a little clearer or a bit more compelling — like today’s piece from Noah Berlatsky (under “What the left is saying”).

Lastly, I want to highlight a few of the other factors that go into our decisions. We don’t want to over-select from the same sources, so we sometimes choose to quote authors who work for news outlets that we haven’t quoted in a while. Other times we want to get a local voice for a local story, such as when we quoted Nancy Kaffer from the Detroit Free Press after the Michigan primaries or when we quoted the Arizona Republic editorial board today. All in all, it’s a good idea not to assume consensus from the mainstream press based on the authors we choose to quote.

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Under the radar.

Several major cities across the country are opting to reintroduce criminal penalties for low-level crime or ramping enforcement back up. In Oregon, lawmakers moved to reintroduce criminal penalties for the possession of hard drugs, ending the state's three-year decriminalization experiment passed by voters in 2020. In Washington, D.C., the city is reversing progressive reforms with a major public safety bill that raises penalties for gun crimes and theft after the city hit a 25-year high in homicides. And in New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) is dispatching the National Guard and state police to the subways following a spate of crime. Fox News has the story in New York, The Guardian has the story in Oregon, and The Washington Post has the story in D.C.


  • +1. Krysten Sinema’s net approval rating among Arizona Democrats before she switched her party affiliation to independent, according to Morning Consult. 
  • -29. Sinema’s net approval rating among Arizona Democrats after she switched her party affiliation to independent.
  • 0. The change in Sinema’s net approval rating among all Arizona voters after she switched her party affiliation to independent.
  • $595,000. The amount raised by Sinema’s campaign in Q4 2023.
  • $3.3 million. The amount raised by Ruben Gallego’s campaign in Q4 2023.
  • $2.1 million. The amount raised by Kari Lake’s campaign in Q4 2023.
  • 47%-37%. Gallego’s lead over Kari Lake in a head-to-head matchup in a February 2024 poll from Noble Predictive Insights.
  • 34%-31%-23%. Gallego, Lake, and Sinema’s poll numbers, respectively, in a three-way matchup prior to Sinema’s exit from the race.

The extras.

Yesterday’s poll: 289 readers took and completed our ranked-choice survey on which Super Tuesday result is the most interesting. A snapshot of the first stage is below, but you can see all of the fascinating results here.

Take the poll: What do you think of Kyrsten Sinema’s legacy? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

Jenny Hazard's heart sank when she discovered that Bear, her 16-year-old shih tzu, had disappeared from their backyard. "After about 15 or 20 minutes, I was just in tears," Hazard said. In a desperate attempt to find him, she posted a plea for help on social media. Hours later, she got a text that Bear was safe, and happy, having a night out at the local bar. Hazard was relieved, and more than a little amused. "They took good care of him, and I guess he was pretty popular," Hazard said. Fox6 Milwaukee has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.