Former senator to replace John McCain until end of year

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The governor of Arizona has announced that a former senator will fill the late John McCain’s US Senate seat but said he has only committed to serve until the end of the year.

Jon Kyl, a Republican who retired from the Senate in 2012 to become a lobbyist and spend more time with his family, is currently shepherding President Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court.

Mr Kyl’s appointment will make it possible for him to vote for the nomination.

It is unclear what more the 76-year-old will do in the Senate.

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 decide who fills the seat until 2022.

The seat will then be up again for a full six-year term.

Governor Doug Ducey, also a Republican, said Mr Kyl was “the best possible person, regardless of politics” for the job, and he hopes Mr Kyl serves past the end of the year.

If Mr Kyl does leave the Senate after the end of the current congressional term on January 3, 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, Mr Kyl will pad Republicans’ margin in the narrowly divided Senate.

They hold a 51-49 majority but that dwindled to a single vote while Mr McCain stayed in Arizona for much of this year being treated for the brain cancer that killed him on August 25.

The GOP is hoping Mr Kyl will be a more reliable partisan vote than Mr McCain, whose opposition to a partial repeal of Barack Obama’s healthcare law pitched the party into turmoil last year.

Mr Kyl is well-respected in Arizona and has been able to avoid many of the battles with activists that complicated Mr McCain’s career and that of the state’s other senator, Jeff Flake, who is retiring because his feud with Mr Trump made his re-election impossible.

Mr Kyl’s entire career in Washington overlapped with Mr McCain’s, and he served with the state’s senior senator for three terms before stepping down.

He carved out a profile as a reliable conservative vote and a foreign policy expert.

Mr 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 Mr Kyl was a safe pick.

“I think McCain would be very happy with the pick. Honours his legacy while putting some major horsepower for Arizona in the seat, at least for now,” he said.

A lawyer, Mr Kyl speaks in a formal, reserved manner that is a sharp contrast to Mr Trump, and he belongs to an older, less populist vanguard of the GOP.

At a news conference where he was introduced as Mr McCain’s replacement, Mr Kyl said in a response to a question that he has only met Mr Trump once, though he noted he is working for the White House by serving as Judge Kavanaugh’s so-called “sherpa”.

With a nod towards Mr McCain, Mr 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”.

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

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

He will likely also vote on bills containing tens of billions of dollars for Defence Department programmes after he represented defence giant Northrop Grumman.

His work was primarily focused on tax issues affecting the company, but his 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.

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