PHOENIX, Ariz. (Reuters) - Former U.S. Republican Senator Jon Kyl is Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s pick to fill the U.S. Senate seat from Arizona vacated by John McCain, who died last month, the governor said on Tuesday.
The appointment brings a more conservative bent to the Senate given Kyle’s voting record and how it veers from that of McCain, a maverick who sometimes collaborated with Democrats on major legislation.
Once he is formally installed in the Senate, Kyl’s first major vote is likely to be on the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Kyl, now a lobbyist at the law firm Covington & Burling, already has been working behind the scenes to boost Kavanaugh’s prospects. He would provide more of a cushion to a Republican victory in the deeply divided Senate given that McCain had been too sick all year to cast votes in Washington.
“Kyl tended to be more conservative than McCain throughout his tenure in the Senate,” Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston, said in a telephone interview.
Kyl, 76, served with McCain in the Senate and rose to become Republican whip, the second-highest leadership post in his party’s Senate leadership, before retiring in 2013.
In a statement announcing Kyle’s appointment, Ducey said his fellow Republican “understands how the Senate functions and will make an immediate and positive impact benefiting all Arizonans.”
Once Kyl is sworn in, Republicans will return to the 51 seats they held in the 100-member Senate before McCain’s death. Democrats control 49 seats, including two independents who align with them.
While no date has been announced for Kyl to take the oath of office, a swearing-in typically occurs promptly after the governor’s appointment.
Republican President Donald Trump had long feuded with McCain and did not attend the senator’s memorials in Arizona and Washington over the past week, at McCain’s request.
At a news conference, Kyl said he has only met Trump once, several months ago. “I don’t really have a relationship with President Trump.”
McCain, who died of brain cancer at age 81 on Aug. 25, would have been up for re-election to his seventh term in November 2022.
Kyl’s new stint in the Senate is not likely to last long.
A special election will be called in 2020 to fill the remainder of McCain’s term, which would have ended in January 2023. Kyl said he would not be a candidate in 2020. And if Kyl were to leave before November 2020, Ducey would have to name another caretaker for the seat.
Kyl served four two-year terms in the U.S. House of Representatives before he was first elected to a six-year stint in the Senate in 1994.
He retired at the end of his third term in January 2013.
McCain’s fellow Arizonan, retiring U.S. Senator Jeff Flake, who has been one of Trump’s most prominent Republican critics, praised the pick on Twitter, calling it “an excellent choice!”
Kyl won also won praise from an opposition Democrat, responding to a reporter’s question about the choice.
Representative Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said given that the Arizona governor was “not going to appoint somebody who is going to vote with us, it’s a pretty good appointment.”
Reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix and Richard Cowan in Washington; writing by Jon Herskovitz; editing by Jonathan Oatis