This week in politics began with the Georgia runoff election, where Sen. Raphael Warnock claimed victory over Republican challenger Herschel Walker. But just days after Warnock gave Democrats the extra seat and a 51-49 advantage in the Senate, Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema announced Friday she has switched her party affiliation, leaving the Democrats to be an independent.
On the House side, a bill to protect same-sex marriage advanced this week, passing with support from some Republican representatives. The Respect for Marriage act will go now to President Joe Biden for his signature to become law.
Here's what happened this week in politics:
Warnock wins Georgia runoff
Sen. Raphael Warnock officially won his bid for reelection Tuesday, defeating Republican Herschel Walker in Georgia's runoff.
The race in Georgia went to a runoff after neither Warnock nor Walker received more than 50% of the vote in November.
“I am Georgia,” Warnock said during his victory speech Tuesday night. “I am an example and an iteration of its history, of its pain and its promise, of the brutality and the possibility.”
“After a hard fought campaign, you got me for six more years,” he added.
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Sinema leaves the Democratic party
In an opinion piece by Sinema published Friday morning in The Arizona Republic, part of the USA TODAY network, the former Democrat said she made the change in line with a promise she made to offer Arizona voters "something different."
"Americans are told that we have only two choices – Democrat or Republican – and that we must subscribe wholesale to policy views the parties hold, views that have been pulled further and further toward the extremes," Sinema wrote.
Sinema, who as a Democrat aligned with Republicans on certain issues including taxes, said the switch will not affect how she votes going forward. She will also continue to caucus with Democrats and keep her committee positions.
Brittney Griner returns home, released from Russian prison
WNBA star Brittney Griner was released from a Russian penal colony Thursday morning in a prisoner exchange deal between the U.S. and Russia. Griner had been detained since February, charged for possession of cannabis oil. She landed in Texas early Friday morning for evaluation and treatment at a military medical facility.
In return for Griner's release, Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout was freed from prison in Illinois. Bout had been arrested and imprisoned for selling weapons to terrorists and conspiring to kill Americans.
Not a part of the deal, which had been in negotiations for months leading up to this week, was the release of Paul Whelan. The 52-year-old former Marine is serving a 16-year sentence after being detained in 2018 and accused of espionage.
Brittney Griner lands in the US: What to know about WNBA star's release from Russia
'Still a hostage': Critics slam Biden over Griner prisoner swap that left Paul Whelan in Russia
SCOTUS on anti-discrimination & election law
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments this week in two high-profile cases. The first on Monday involved a Colorado web designer and her challenge for the right to deny services to a same-sex wedding. The Court's conservative majority appeared to lean in favor of 303 Creative's Lorie Smith, while liberal justices including Ketanji Brown Jackson tried to draw parallels to situations such as a photographer refusing to take photos of non-white children with Santa.
On Wednesday, a case that could have major implications on 2024 and future federal elections was argued before justices. A ruling in favor of North Carolina Republican lawmakers in Moore v. Harper stands to give state legislatures greater power in overturning election laws without much judicial oversight.
The Court is expected to make a decision in both cases next year.
House passes same-sex marriage rights bill
In a vote that garnered support from dozens of GOP representatives, the House passed a bill Thursday morning to protect same-sex and interracial marriage rights. The Respect for Marriage Act, passed 258-169 after clearing the Senate last week, would guarantee federal recognition for any marriage performed in a state where that union was legal.
The act comes in response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade this summer, when Justice Clarence Thomas indicated in his concurring opinion interest in next reconsidering same-sex and interracial marriage.
The bill heads now to President Biden, who is expected to sign the act into law.
What to know: What does the Respect for Marriage Act do?
'We feel more secure': As Respect for Marriage Act passes, same-sex couples share tentative enthusiasm
GOP leaders snubbed by fallen officer's family
During a Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony Tuesday, the two brothers and parents of U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick walked intentionally past the outstretched hands of Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. Kevin McCarthy. Sicknick died of strokes suffered after the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the Capitol.
His family attended the ceremony this week to honor the Capitol Police and D.C. Metropolitan Police. After shaking hands with Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Sicknicks walked on past the GOP Senate and House minority leaders.
“They’re just two-faced,” said Brian's mother, Gladys Sicknick, to CNN. “I’m just tired of them standing there and saying how wonderful the Capitol police is and then they turn around and go down to Mar-a-Lago and kiss his (former President Donald Trump) ring and come back.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: The week in politics: Sinema switches parties, Warnock notches win