Arizona's new senator 'needs no training wheels'
WASHINGTON – On the late Sen. John McCain’s office website is a note asking constituents for patience as staffers deal with their cases in the wake of the senator’s death.
But that was before Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced the appointment Tuesday of former Sen. Jon Kyl to fill McCain’s seat, a move that assures what experts said would likely be a “near-seamless” transition as far as constituents are concerned.
The appointment comes just two days after McCain’s burial at the U.S. Naval Academy and Kyl – a fellow Republican and a former colleague of McCain’s – will keep the late senator’s office and, likely, much of his staff.
“For the large part, the office can continue to function and provide those types of services that they provided in the past,” said Bradford Fitch, president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to effectiveness in congressional operations.
Constituent service is a large part of any congressional office’s workload, more so in the face of contentious issues – like the nomination of Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill an open seat on the Supreme Court.
Fitch said that for a busy office like McCain’s a casework load of 600 to 700 cases per year would be typical, along with upwards of 5,000 emails and letters a week.
Phone calls to a Senate office can swing anywhere from a few hundred per month to 50,000 during major events such as the January 2017 nomination hearings for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Fitch said.
He said the only thing that would be disrupted during a period without a sitting senator would be policy responses to those sorts of disputes. Otherwise, he said, not much changes.
“If you’re working as a legislative assistant in the McCain office, your boss is now the Secretary of the Senate, legally,” he said. “But you still have a chief of staff, they still have state directors, so the infrastructure usually stays the same for some time.”
And they will be in the same place, for now.
“Sen. Kyl will get Sen. McCain’s office until the end of this Congress,” said Katie Boyd, a spokeswoman for Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri. Blunt is chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, which oversees allocation of office space.
Boyd noted that offices will be reassigned in January when the next Congress is sworn in.
So far, Kyl has only committed to holding the seat through the end of this Congress, although McCain’s replacement is entitled to hold the seat until 2020. But Ducey said he hopes to persuade Kyl to stay through 2020.
No matter how long he stays, political experts said Kyl will not have to spend any time ramping up office operations.
“He’s a man that needs no training wheels, and will initially begin helping the state of Arizona like no one else in the state could,” said Jason Rose, a Republican political consultant in Arizona.
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