Former Astronaut Mark Kelly Sworn in to Senate, Filling John McCain's Seat
"Thank you for always being so respectful of my father and his Arizona legacy," Meghan McCain wrote on Twitter
Kelly flipped the seat held by Republican incumbent Martha McSally, who had lost a 2018 race for the Senate to Kyrsten Sinema but was then appointed to fill the vacancy created by departing Sen. Jon Kyl, who was originally named to fill the seat after Sen. John McCain died in 2018.
Kelly, 56, will now hold the seat through the remainder of McCain's term, until January 2023.
By defeating McSally back-to-back, Kelly and Sinema became the first Democratic senators to simultaneously represent Arizona in more than 60 years. They increased the Democratic minority in the Senate to 48 seats, with a pair of Georgia runoffs in January determining who holds the majority.
Kelly was sworn in alongside his wife, former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was shot and nearly killed in an assassination attempt in 2011 — an experience that spurred their activism against gun violence.
Kelly launched his campaign in February 2019, running on a platform that he said would emphasize affordable healthcare, improving wages, increasing employment, bolstering the economy and addressing climate change.
Also in attendance at Wednesday's ceremony was Kelly's twin brother Scott, a fellow retired astronaut, and his daughters Claudia and Claire, who posed with their father for photos following his swearing-in.
In a conversation after the ceremony, Pence spoke with the Kelly brothers about his own son, Michael, a pilot who graduated from naval aviator training in 2018.
They spoke about a dinner the younger Pence once shared with Scott, to discuss life as a pilot and astronaut.
"Thank you. I couldn't remember which Kelly took the time [but] he went on and on about it. Meant a lot to us," Pence said to the group. "He'd probably like to be more like you guys than his dad when he grows up."
As an astronaut Kelly flew in four space missions, including the final mission of Space Shuttle Endeavour in 2011. He is the fourth astronaut elected to Congress.
Following Wednesday's swearing-in ceremony, Pence told Kelly he would be an "invaluable voice building on the progress" the Trump administration had made with NASA over the past four years.
(While Republicans have accepted the results of the Nov. 3 congressional elections, President Donald Trump has refused to accept his loss to Joe Biden — creating incongruities like Pence at Kelly's swearing-in, in his role as Senate president, while not yet commenting on Biden's win.)
Upon the news of his election last month, Kelly released a statement that he was "deeply honored" to have been elected to serve in the seat once held by the late Sen. McCain, who represented Arizona for decades before dying in August 2018.
On Tuesday, Kelly posted a photo of he and his family standing in front of McCain's gravestone on Twitter.
"This morning my family paid our respects to Senator John McCain as I prepare to be sworn in tomorrow," Kelly wrote. "Senator McCain has been a hero of mine since I was a young pilot. He left a legacy of service to Arizona and country that can’t be matched, but that we should all strive towards."
McCain's daughter Meghan McCain responded to his message on her own Twitter, writing: "This is a lovely and touching thing to do@CaptMarkKelly - thank you for always being so respectful of my father and his Arizona legacy."