Lame-Duck GOP Majority Tightens Next Week With Early Swearing-In

  • Democrat Mark Kelly defeated Martha McSally in special election
  • Can be seated as soon as Arizona certifies the Senate race result

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Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly will be sworn in to the Senate as soon as next week, narrowing the Republican majority in the post-election lame-duck session and potentially complicating the party’s efforts to squeeze in a few more priorities in the waning weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Kelly, who unseated Republican incumbent Martha McSally in a Nov. 3 special election, said he expects to take office shortly after Arizona election officials certify his election on Nov. 30.

There are legislative repercussions for how quickly that happens. But the exact timing of when the seat will switch party control remains unclear, with the chamber recessed until after Thanksgiving.

“I imagine that first of week of December is when I’ll be sworn in,” Kelly said Nov. 19 on Arizona radio station KTAR-FM.

After Kelly’s victory is made official, Gov. Doug Ducey (R) and Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) will sign a letter of certification that will be transmitted to the Senate ahead of Kelly’s seating. In 2018, when Kyrsten Sinema (D) won Arizona’s other Senate seat in a regularly scheduled election, state officials signed the certification letter on Dec. 4.

Sophia Solis, the public information officer for Hobbs’ office, said in an e-mail to Bloomberg Government that the office hoped to get Kelly’s letter signed Nov. 30, the same day as the election certification.

That date also is when the Senate plans to hold its next vote.

Photo by Stefanie Reynolds/Bloomberg
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) meets with newly elected senators, including Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly, right.

Narrower Majority

McSally, who was appointed in January 2019 to the Senate seat long held by the late John McCain (R), delivered her farewell address on Nov. 18. Her office didn’t respond to a question about when she would formally resign. The Washington Post reported that McSally told her GOP colleagues on Nov. 17 that last week would be her final one on Capitol Hill.

Once Kelly replaces McSally, the Senate will have 52 Republicans and 48 Democrats. With President Donald Trump having lost his re-election bid to Democratic challenger Joe Biden, and majority control of the Senate in the 117th Congress hanging on the outcome of two Jan. 5 runoff elections in Georgia, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has used the post-election lame-duck session to confirm more of Trump’s nominees to the federal bench.

Kelly replacing McSally will make it unlikely McConnell can advance Trump’s nomination of Judy Shelton to join the Federal Reserve board. Shelton on Nov. 17 was denied a confirmation vote on a procedural move, with 47 Republicans including McSally voting for cloture and 50 senators, including all 47 members of the Democratic Caucus plus Republicans Susan Collins (Maine) and Mitt Romney (Utah), voting against it.

McConnell switched his “yes” vote to “no” at the last minute to preserve his procedural right to bring the nomination back up again later, though it’s not clear if he will.

Had all 100 senators voted on Shelton, Vice President Mike Pence could have advanced her nomination by breaking a 50-50 tie. But two Shelton supporters, Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Rick Scott (Fla.), missed the vote because they were in self-imposed quarantines following exposure to Covid-19. Grassley and Scott have tested positive for the virus. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who opposes Shelton’s nomination, was out of town.

If all senators participate in a second vote and Kelly votes with fellow Democrats, Shelton’s nomination would be defeated 51-49.

Kelly was elected to fill the remaining two-plus years of McCain’s unexpired term and will seek a full six-year term in the 2022 election.

To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Giroux in Washington at ggiroux@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kyle Trygstad at ktrygstad@bgov.com; Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com

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