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Arizona Governor Names Former Sen. Jon Kyl To Replace John McCain

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Arizona's next U.S. senator will be a familiar name to both his constituents and fellow senators. Governor Doug Ducey named former Senator Jon Kyl to replace John McCain, who died late last month. Bret Jaspers of member station KJZZ has more.

BRET JASPERS, BYLINE: Ahead of today's announcement, there was speculation Ducey could nominate a fresh face to represent the state. But Ducey, who's facing a tough re-election this fall, went with a safe choice, saying he wanted to pick the best possible person.

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DOUG DUCEY: There is big work to be done in the United States Senate. No one in the state of Arizona has the stature of Jon Kyl. I asked and I'm grateful that he accepted.

JASPERS: Kyl served three terms in the Senate alongside McCain before retiring in 2013 and joining a lobbying firm in Washington. He's known as an expert in water policy and tribal issues, but he's also played a vital role for the GOP this summer, shepherding Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh through the Senate confirmation process.

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DUCEY: Now Senator Kyl can cast a vote for Kavanaugh's confirmation.

JASPERS: A big deal when Republicans hold the Senate majority by only one vote. Even so, Ducey said at a press conference his choice is about more than the Supreme Court.

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DUCEY: Jon Kyl has a record. He's worked across the aisle, and he has been lauded by both sides of the aisle. And he's going to do a good job for the state of Arizona.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So you're not just picking him because he's going to vote for Kavanaugh.

DUCEY: I'm picking him because he's the best possible person.

JASPERS: Ducey also had to navigate the tricky politics of the Arizona Republican Party, which has censured McCain in the past for not being sufficiently conservative. Activists made it clear they did not want to see McCain's widow, Cindy, assume the seat. The head of the state GOP called it an outstanding appointment. Kyl said, it's been an honor to work on the Kavanaugh nomination.

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JON KYL: I believe in Judge Kavanaugh. And in that capacity, I've been able to support not just Judge Kavanaugh but the administration and I think the proper administration of justice.

JASPERS: Kyl will be a reliable vote for Republicans. During his last stint in the Senate, Kyl served as the No. 2 Republican under leader Mitch McConnell. As for his relationship with the Trump administration, earlier this year, Kyl told KJZZ that President Trump can be boorish. When asked about those remarks today, he said he'd only met Trump once and compared him with McCain.

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KYL: I think sometimes his desire to jump into the middle of a fight or maybe even create a fight - by the way, that reminds me of somebody. But sometimes that can be detrimental to what he's trying to achieve. And that's what I said, and I stand by that comment.

JASPERS: Kyl hasn't promised to serve past the end of the current Congress, which runs until December. If he decided not to continue, the sitting governor would have to make another appointment. Either way, there will be an election for the seat in 2020. For NPR News, I'm Bret Jaspers in Phoenix. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.