Former senator to replace McCain, at least until January
PHOENIX — A former U.S. senator from Arizona who is now a lobbyist helping guide the confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was named Tuesday to temporarily fill the Senate seat left open by the death of John McCain.
Republican Jon Kyl cited his sense of duty in accepting the appointment but said he’s only committing to serve until the end of the congressional session next Jan. 3.
Despite the short window, Kyl will likely be able to vote for Kavanaugh as the Supreme Court nominee.
Kyl, 76, retired from the Senate after three terms in 2012 and became a lobbyist. He said he had wanted to spend more time with his family in Arizona but will reluctantly return to Washington to help finish the nation’s business, including confirming the president’s judicial nominees.
“I’m putting my country first, just as this seat’s previous occupant did every single day for more than 30 years,” Kyl said of McCain.
Kyl, an attorney, was appointed by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a fellow Republican who called him the best person for the job “regardless of politics” and said he hopes Kyl stays in the post longer.
President Donald Trump tweeted: “Jon Kyl will be an extraordinary senator representing an extraordinary state, Arizona. I look forward to working with him.”
Kyl was a reliable Republican vote during his time in the Senate — in contrast to McCain’s occasional defiance of party leaders — and his arrival will be welcome to a GOP that has struggled with a narrow, single-vote majority while McCain was treated for the brain cancer that killed him on Aug. 25.
Voters will decide who they want in the seat in 2020, when they elect someone to serve the rest of McCain’s term. The seat will come up again for a six-year term in 2022.
If Kyl does leave the Senate in January, Arizona’s governor can appoint another person for the remaining year.
In the coming months, Kyl will have the opportunity to vote on several issues that have been involved in his lobbying activities, from immigration to national security.
He 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 there 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.
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 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 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.
Kyl speaks in a formal, reserved manner that is a sharp contrast to Trump, and he belongs to an older, less populist vanguard of the GOP. At a news conference where he was introduced as McCain’s replacement, Kyl said he’s only met Trump once, though he noted he is working for the White House by serving as Kavanaugh’s so-called “sherpa.”
With a nod toward McCain, Kyl said the president’s “desire to jump into the middle of or be in the middle of a fight — and by the way that reminds me of somebody — can be detrimental in the end to what he’s trying to achieve.”
The unusual timing of Kyl’s appointment could work out for another Arizona Republican who wants to become a U.S. senator — Rep. Martha McSally.
She’s currently locked in a tough campaign against Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema for the Senate seat Flake is vacating. Should she lose, McSally — a former Air Force colonel who once worked on Kyl’s staff — could be appointed to the McCain seat if Kyl leaves it in January.