Sen.-elect Kyrsten Sinema will be sworn into office before Martha McSally, who Gov. Doug Ducey appointed Tuesday to fill Arizona’s U.S. Senate vacancy.
Because she will be sworn in first, Sinema will become Arizona’s senior senator and first female senator, which Ducey said honors the wishes of the state’s voters.
Sinema defeated McSally by about 55,000 votes in Arizona’s Senate race where more than 2.4 million votes were cast earlier this year.
But McSally isn’t bitter. In accepting the appointment, she promised to work with her former opponent once they are both sworn in.
The concept of seniority, which is assigned based on when incoming senators are sworn in, was developed in the first half-century of the Senate, resolving the institution’s struggle to find an “equitable means for distributing special status among members,” including committee assignments and getting more desirable office space
McSally will be Arizona’s junior senator.
At a press conference Tuesday to announce the appointment of McSally to the U.S. Senate, Ducey said Sinema deserves senior standing.
“I’m also going to respect the will of the voters. Sen.-elect Sinema was elected to the office and she’s going to be first,” he said.
Ducey could have pushed for McSally to be sworn in immediately — as Sen. Jon Kyl was when he accepted the appointment to fill the seat previously held by Sen. John McCain. In that scenario, McSally would become Arizona’s senior senator.
McSally will fill McCain’s seat when Kyl steps down at the end of this year.
Although senior status is mostly symbolic, Ducey likely would have faced a wave of criticism if his administration pushed for McSally to be sworn in before Sinema.
Every state has a senior and a junior senator. Typically, there is a sizeable experience gap between the two senators and the senior member has more knowledge of the chamber and more clout amongst its members. In this case, both Sinema and McSally will be coming into the Senate at roughly the same time.
Sinema will be sworn in with other new senators on Jan. 3. McSally will be sworn in sometime after that, Ducey said.
Once they’re sworn in, McSally vowed Tuesday to work with Sinema — putting aside the “spirited” election matchup that pitted the two congresswomen against each other this year.
Arizona’s senators have a long, storied history of working together, McSally said, characterizing the teamwork as a state tradition. The two-term congresswoman from Tucson said she and Sinema share a lot of common ground and will work together just like they did when they were both in the House.
“The election is over and the people have spoken and I’m honored to have this appointment,” McSally said. “And now, for all of us, it’s about moving forward and it’s about the challenges that we have as a state and as a country and continuing to be problem-solving for the people that we represent.”
Her statements glossed over her contentious Senate matchup with Sinema in which the attacks turned both negative and personal.
Sinema has not publicly acknowledged Ducey’s appointment of McSally. McSally said she texted Sinema the news early Tuesday morning.
Part of the reason Arizona’s senators have often worked well together is that in the state’s recent history, both senators have represented the same political party. McSally, a Republican, and Sinema, a Democrat, represent opposing parties with Democrats in the minority in the Senate.
Arizona hasn’t had Democratic representation in the Senate since Dennis DeConcini took office in 1977, serving first with Republican Barry Goldwater and then McCain.
Now, of the six states with two female senators, Arizona will be the only one in which the women are from different political parties.
Some have criticized Ducey for appointing McSally after she lost the Senate race, arguing the governor’s appointment was unfair considering voters rejected McSally in November.
Arizona Democratic Party chairwoman Felecia Rotellini said McSally and Republican leaders in the Senate are rejecting the will of the voters to advance the GOP agenda.
“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,” she said.
Ducey credited Sinema for her decisive victory in November, but said McSally still earned votes of confidence from a large swath of Arizona voters.
“The voters did make their choice and I believe that the voters had two excellent choices in this past election, he said. “Martha McSally received over 1 million votes to the United States Senate.”