Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey chose former US Sen. Jon Kyl to replace the late John McCain in the Senate, the governor said at a news conference Tuesday.
Kyl’s appointment means the Republican attorney who had been guiding President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, through the confirmation process will now have a vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
In choosing Kyl, Ducey tapped a figure who is well-liked by both Trump’s political team and McCain’s family and allies. However, with Kyl saying he won’t run for re-election, it also leaves open the possibility of a bruising primary in 2020.
Under Arizona law, Ducey is responsible for appointing a McCain replacement until a November 2020 special election. The winner of that special election will fill the remaining two years of McCain’s term. Then, in 2022, the seat will be on the ballot for a full six-year term.
Ducey said at the news conference it’s not clear whether Kyl will remain in the Senate through 2020. And Kyl said he won’t run for re-election.
“I haven’t been able to get that assurance from Sen. Kyl yet. What I have gotten is a commitment to serve Arizona through at least this session of Congress, and it’s my hope that he serves longer,” Ducey said. “I’m hoping that the senator will consider serving longer.”
Kyl added: “I have committed to serving at least through the second session of the 115th Congress. I do know I will not seek this seat in 2020, nor any other office in the future.”
The son of a former congressman, Kyl, who’s now 76, was elected to the House in 1986 and the Senate in 1994, establishing a reputation as one of the Senate’s most conservative members and rising to become the second-ranking Republican in the chamber and a top deputy to Mitch McConnell before retiring rather than seeking re-election in 2012.
McCain praised Kyl on the Senate floor when Kyl announced his resignation, touting Kyl’s work ethic.
“I’ve tried to learn from his example, and I wish I could say I’ve emulated him, but regrettably, as Arizonans and my Senate colleagues can attest, I still possess a short supply of some of Jon’s most conspicuous leadership qualities,” McCain said in a tongue-in-cheek portion of his remarks. “His patience, for example, his meticulous preparation and thoroughness, are, I’m sorry to say, not qualities that I’ll be remembered for, but they’ve been indispensable to the people of our state.”
Since leaving the Senate, Kyl has been a lobbyist at Covington & Burling.
McConnell did not push for Kyl’s appointment to fill McCain’s seat – the decision was made by Ducey alone – but is very supportive of the move, knowing it gives the GOP room to lose one Republican senator and still confirm Kavanaugh, two GOP sources with knowledge of the matter said.
Ducey, meanwhile, will placate Arizona Republicans through his own re-election bid this fall. He’ll also have time to watch the Senate race to replace Jeff Flake – who won Kyl’s old seat in 2012 – play out in November, with Republican Rep. Martha McSally facing Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema.
Cindy McCain, the late senator’s wife, praised the selection of Kyl on Twitter, calling him “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,” she said.
Meghan McCain, the late senator’s daughter, also praised the appointment, saying she “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.”
This story has been updated to include additional developments.
CNN’s Manu Raju contributed to this report.