PHOENIX (AP) — Prolonging the uncertainty over who will fill the late John McCain’s U.S. Senate seat, the governor of Arizona on Tuesday announced the appointment of former Sen. Jon Kyl but said he has only committed to serve until the end of the year.
“It’s my hope that he serves longer.” Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, said as he announced the pick at the Arizona Capitol. He said Kyl was “the best possible person, regardless of politics.”
Kyl, a Republican who retired from the Senate in 2012 to spend more time with his family, is currently shepherding Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. Kyl’s appointment will make it possible for him to vote for the nomination.
But it’s unclear what more Kyl, 76, will do in Washington. He said he agreed to serve briefly out of a “sense of duty” and will not run for the seat in 2020, when Arizona voters will have their first decision on who fills the remainder of McCain’s seat through 2022. The seat will then be up again for a full six-year term.
If Kyl does not serve after the end of the current congressional term on Jan. 3, 2019, Arizona’s governor can appoint another senator for the remaining year. By state law the senator will have to be a member of the same party as the departing one, in this case the GOP.
For now, Kyl will pad Republicans’ margin in the narrowly divided Senate. They hold a 51-49 majority but that dwindled to a single vote while McCain stayed in Arizona for much of this year being treated for the brain cancer that killed him on Aug. 25.
The GOP is hoping Kyl will be a more reliable partisan vote than McCain, whose opposition to a partial repeal of President Obama’s health care law pitched the party into turmoil last year.
Kyl is well-respected in Arizona and has been able to avoid many of the battles with activists that complicated McCain’s career and that of the state’s other senator, Jeff Flake, who is retiring because his feud with Trump made his re-election impossible.
Kyl’s entire career in Washington overlapped with McCain’s and he served with the state’s senior senator for three terms before stepping down. Kyl carved out a profile as a reliable conservative vote and a foreign policy expert.
McCain’s widow, Cindy, tweeted: “Jon Kyl is a dear friend of mine and John’s. It’s a great tribute to John that he is prepared to go back into public service to help the state of Arizona.”
Doug Cole, a veteran Republican consultant and former McCain aide, said Kyl was a good, safe pick.
“I think McCain would be very happy with the pick. Honors his legacy while putting some major horsepower for Arizona in the seat, at least for now,” he said.
Filling McCain’s seat marks a turning point in Arizona political history. That seat in particular has been held by two men who were heralded as giants of the Senate: McCain took the seat once held by Sen. Barry Goldwater after he had served in the House of Representatives.
The choice will also have political consequences for Ducey. He’s up for re-election this November against Democratic challenger David Garcia.
For Republican voters who are on the fence about Ducey, a choice they dislike could cause them to withdraw their support for the incumbent or stay home on Election Day.
McCain’s office said an estimated 15,000 people came to see the late senator as he lay in state in the Arizona state Capitol for a public viewing several days after his death.
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