Standing alongside Governor Doug Ducey on Tuesday, newly appointed senator-to-be Martha McSally sought to move past a brutal Senate fight and said she can work effectively with the person who defeated her, Senator-elect Kyrsten Sinema.
Sinema’s victory in November was a landmark win for a Democrat in an Arizona U.S. Senate race, the first in 30 years.
Ducey announced that he would appoint McSally to the Senate on Tuesday morning, a month after McSally lost to Sinema in the close Senate contest. McSally will serve in the seat formerly held by John McCain.
During the press conference on Tuesday at the governor’s office, when asked about her explosive remark in a debate accusing Sinema of committing treason, McSally said, “The election is over, and the people have spoken, and I’m honored to have this appointment.”
She pivoted to describe a problem-solving approach she’ll take to challenges faced by Arizona and the nation. “I look forward to working with Kyrsten; I texted her this morning,” McSally added.
Former Arizona Senator Jon Kyl has served as a placeholder since Ducey appointed him to McCain’s seat in September, but as expected, Kyl will step down effective December 31 to make way for McSally.
McSally received criticism for her rightward turn during the Republican Senate primary, which opponents portrayed as disingenuous: A former Trump skeptic, McSally embraced Trump and his policies during the Senate campaign, especially on immigration and the border. Meanwhile, Sinema hammered home a centrist, nonpartisan message designed to appeal to independents and moderate Republicans.
During the campaign, McSally and her allies assailed Sinema as a left-wing extremist. In their sole debate, McSally used an offhand comment made by Sinema on a radio show in 2003 to accuse Sinema of supporting the Taliban. Sparring with a libertarian radio host, Sinema said she didn’t care if Americans joined the Taliban. “I don’t care if you want to do that, go ahead,” Sinema said. McSally equated the comment to treason
More than a few awkward moments may still be ahead. But on Tuesday, McSally sought to move past the bitter race, and described the campaign as “very spirited.”
McSally said that she has previously worked with Sinema while they served in the House. She said that she congratulated Sinema over the phone on the night she conceded and in person in Congress.
“I look forward to working with her in the future because this is what it’s all about – it’s for service for Arizona, it’s about doing what’s best for Arizona,” McSally said. “And so I think we can find that common ground and work together, I look forward to it.”
She will face a competitive landscape to hold onto the seat. McSally will have to run to retain the seat in 2020 and again in 2022 in order to serve a full six-year term. In both contests, Democratic challengers will be itching to replicate Sinema’s Senate victory.
Even before she was appointed, McSally faced critics who said that because she lost the election, Ducey ought to choose someone else.
In a release, the Arizona Democratic Party attributed her appointment to Washington, D.C., insiders who “hand-picked” McSally.
“After running a divisive, dishonest campaign for over a year, Arizona voters rejected McSally because they don’t trust her to fight for them when it matters most,” said party chair Felecia Rotellini in a statement.
When asked what she would tell skeptical voters, McSally said, “I’ve spent my life in service and I’m going to serve with everything I’ve got to make a difference for those who I represent.”
Addressing another point of contention surrounding the Senate appointment, Ducey confirmed that Sinema will be sworn in before McSally. In addition to the historic significance of Sinema becoming the first woman to serve as U.S. senator from Arizona, the decision means that Sinema will be the senior senator and McSally the junior senator, which has implications for ranking and privileges in the chamber.
“Kyrsten Sinema will be sworn in first on January 3,” Ducey said. “She will be the senior senator from Arizona. Martha McSally’s swearing-in will happen following Senator-elect Sinema’s.”
When asked why he made the choice, Ducey said, “Of course, we are going to follow Senate rules, but I’m also going to respect the will of the voters. Senator-elect Sinema was elected to the office, and she’s going to be sworn in first.”
Ducey was also forced to respond to reports suggesting that McCain’s family, including his widow Cindy McCain and daughter Meghan McCain, were lukewarm on a McSally appointment because of how she embraced President Trump during the campaign and barely mentioned John McCain during the signing of the National Defense Authorization Act named in his honor.
Last week, Meghan McCain’s husband tweeted that appointing McSally would be a mistake. The Washington Post reported that McSally apologized to Cindy McCain for the defense bill snub during a meeting on December 14.
“I was happy that Martha and Cindy were able to get together and visit earlier this week and clear the air,” Ducey said on Tuesday.
Cindy McCain, however, issued a somewhat terse statement following the announcement which said she respected Ducey’s decision.
“My husband’s greatest legacy was placing service to AZ & USA ahead of his own self-interest,” McCain wrote on Twitter. “I respect @dougducey’s decision to appoint @RepMcSally to fill the remainder of his term. Arizonans will be pulling for her, hoping that she will follow his example of selfless leadership.”
McSally was reportedly the preferred choice of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Political action committees aligned with the Kentucky Republican poured upward of $9 million into the Senate race to support McSally during her campaign, the Arizona Republic reported.
Asked about the impact of voices from Washington, D.C., on the decision, Ducey said that he has read the news stories “with great interest,” but emphasized that his name has been missing from the reporting.
Ducey said, “I think the fact that I’m standing here and now with Martha McSally at my side making the appointment to the United States Senate says everything that needs to be said.”