Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) will quit the Senate as of Dec. 31, setting up a key appointment decision for Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R).
The decision, which had been expected nearly from the day Kyl returned to the Senate, means that whichever Republican Ducey picks as his replacement will get a jump-start on what’s expected to be a tough reelection fight in 2020.
“Thank you for appointing me to the U.S. Senate to fill the vacancy created by John McCain’s death,” Kyl wrote in a letter to Ducey. “It has been an honor and a privilege to again serve the people of Arizona.”
Kyl made a short-term return to the Senate after Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) death in order to serve as a key vote for the GOP in the closing months of the year — most crucially casting a key vote to put Judge Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court. Kyl had been serving as Kavanaugh’s personal sherpa, helping him navigate the nomination in the Senate, until he he was appointed. He wasn’t shy about admitting that was a key reason he agreed to take the short-term job.
Kyl had spent decades in the Senate but has worked as a lobbyist since his retirement in 2012, and is expected to return to that world after having a chance to renew his Senate connections in his short stint in Congress. The timing of his resignation means the public won’t know the full extent of what he had been working on — because he’s quitting before the end of the year, he won’t legally be required to file a personal financial disclosure form that would have shed more light onto his ties.
Ducey, who recently won reelection, now faces a key choice for Kyl’s replacement in his purple-trending state.
Outgoing Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), who just lost a close Senate race to Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), had initially been viewed as the odds-on favorite for the appointment.
But some Arizona Republicans believe she blew a winnable race and have criticized her refusal to take responsibility for the loss. Ducey reportedly isn’t particularly high on her at this point. Kirk Adams, who recently resigned as Ducey’s chief of staff, may be the front-runner now. Adams, a former state house speaker, has shown an interest in serving in Washington — he ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2012.
Ducey’s office said in a statement that Kyl’s replacement “will be announced in the near future.”
Sinema’s win indicated to Democrats that the state is once again winnable for them after decades where it was a GOP lock for federal races. Potential candidates for the seat include Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), former astronaut Mark Kelly, who’s married to former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) and has emerged as an outspoken gun control advocate since his wife’s shooting, and Grant Woods, a former McCain chief of staff and state attorney general who recently left the GOP.
The winner will serve the remaining two years of McCain’s term, before having to face reelection in 2022.
The Arizona Republic first reported Kyl’s resignation letter.