Gov. Doug Ducey appoints Jon Kyl as replacement for Sen. John McCain

Sep 4, 2018, 9:32 AM | Updated: 4:48 pm
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)...
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced Tuesday that he would appoint former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl as the replacement for the late Sen. John McCain.

“I realize what an important decision this is and there’s no replacing Sen. John McCain. But the law requires me to do it and the people of Arizona deserve representation in the U.S. Senate,” Ducey said during a press conference.

“There is no one in Arizona with the statute of Jon Kyl. He is a man without comparable peer.”

Kyl, speaking to reporters, said he did not commit to serving in the Senate seat after the end of the year and said he would not seek the seat in 2020.

Voters will decide in a 2020 special election who fills the remainder of McCain’s seat through 2022. Then the seat will be up again for a full six-year term.

Ducey told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Mac and Gaydos that he expected Kyl to be sworn in Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. Kyl was heading back to Washington, D.C., as confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh began. Kyl was serving as chief Sherpa for Kavanaugh.

In a tweet that published ahead of the announcement, Ducey said he was “deeply grateful” to Kyl for agreeing to succeed McCain.

Ducey previously stated that he would not name a replacement for McCain until after the late senator was buried. McCain was laid to rest at the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland, on Sunday.

Cindy McCain, McCain’s wife, tweeted a statement praising Kyl on Tuesday, calling him a “dear friend.”

The late Senator’s daughter, Meghan, also said in a tweet that he was grateful to Kyl’s “willingness to return to public service to take my father’s seat in the Senate.

“I can think of no one better to keep fighting for the country and state he held so dear. He has always been a true statesman and a friend to my family,” the tweet read.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake also tweeted about the pick on Tuesday, calling it an “excellent choice.”

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was one of McCain’s closest friends in the Senate, said he was pleased that Kyl was appointed to the seat.

The announcement on Tuesday was arguably the biggest of Ducey’s career: The governor was tasked with appointing someone who would be approved by President Donald Trump, the McCain family and the Republican Party — all in the midst of a re-election battle and a bid to appoint Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

“Doug Ducey is going to have to thread the needle,” ABC News political analyst Alex Castellanos told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona Morning News on Tuesday.

“Republicans want that vote when it comes time to vote for Kavanaugh.”

Ducey told reporters that he picked Kyl because he is the “best possible person,” not just because he will vote to appoint Kavanaugh.

Kyl will be entering a narrowly divided senate where Republicans could gain or lose seats in November.

The Republican Party is hoping he’ll be a more reliable partisan vote than McCain, whose opposition to a partial repeal of President Barack Obama’s health care law pitched the party into turmoil last year.

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.

Garcia, in a statement, said he would have appointed someone who had a “history of independence and bipartisanship,” like Cindy McCain or Grant Woods.

“It is important, now more than ever, to elect strong governors who will oppose a dangerous and reckless Trump administration,” Garcia said.

The 76-year-old Kyl was elected to the House from Arizona in 1986 and the Senate in 2004 before retiring in 2013, but he recently returned to Washington, D.C. as the chief Sherpa for Kavanaugh to help guide him through the confirmation process.

When Kyl retired, McCain took to the Senate floor to speak of his admiration for the former Senator.

A majority of Arizona voters surveyed said they wanted Ducey to appoint a replacement for McCain in the mold of the longtime U.S. senator, and that doing so would help Ducey’s re-election chances.

Sixty-one percent of Arizona voters wanted Ducey to pick a McCain-like senator to fill the seat, according to a Public Polling Policy poll conducted last month.

“They don’t want another Trump clone,” Jim Williams, a polling analyst for the firm, told KTAR News 92.3 FM at the time. “They would prefer to see more of a statesman in the McCain style.”

Only 37 percent of those polled wanted Ducey’s pick to be more in the mold of President Donald Trump, who famously did not get along with Arizona’s six-term Republican senator.

After McCain was first diagnosed with cancer, rumors started floating around that he would appoint Cindy to the seat. But Ducey said at the time that he would not entertain the idea of selecting a replacement because the senator was still alive at the time.

During his time back in the Senate, Kyl will have the opportunity to vote on several issues that have been involved in his lobbying activities, from immigration to national security.

Kyl has lobbied on behalf of young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, often called Dreamers, whose fate is in limbo after Trump tried to end an Obama-era program protecting them from deportation and Congress deadlocked on a solution.

Kyl will likely also vote on bills containing tens of billions of dollars for Defense Department programs after he represented defense giant Northrop Grumman.

His work was primarily focused on tax issues affecting the company, but Kyl’s firm, Covington & Burling, also lobbied the House and Senate to drum up support for the B-21 bomber, a stealth aircraft Northrop Grumman is building for the Air Force.

McCain died last month at 81 after a yearlong battle with brain cancer. He was in his sixth term in the Senate.

This is the first time in Arizona history a governor has needed to appoint a U.S. Senator.

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 Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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Gov. Doug Ducey appoints Jon Kyl as replacement for Sen. John McCain