Former astronaut and gun control activist Mark Kelly is sworn in to the US Senate

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Arizona Democrat and former astronaut Mark Kelly was sworn in in the US Senate on Wednesday, reducing Republican control of the chamber and highlighting his state’s change from red to blue.

Kelly, 56, defeated Republican Senator Martha McSally in last month’s election, making her one of only three incumbents to lose. On taking office, he reduced the Republican advantage in the chamber to 52-48.

This will have little impact on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s control of the chamber for the last month of this congressional session. But it sets the stage for two decisive Senate elections in Georgia on January 5.

If the Democrats win both, they will command the 50-50 House for the new Congress which begins in early January because Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would vote a tie.

Kelly was sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence, and both men wore masks and bumped arms in congratulations at the end of the oath. He was joined by his wife, former Representative Gabby Giffords, and Scott Kelly, his twin brother and retired astronaut colleague.

Kelly attends his swearing-in ceremony as Democratic US Senator for Arizona as his wife Gabby Giffords, former US Representative for Arizona, listens in Washington on Wednesday. (Nicholas Kamm / Piscine via Reuters)

Kelly’s arrival in the Senate marks a political milestone for Arizona, which has two Democratic senators for the first time since January 1953. It was then that Republican Senator Barry Goldwater took office, barely a decade before he became his party’s failed candidate in 1964.

Further proof of Arizona’s political change, the state backed President-elect Joe Biden last month, the first time he was carried by a Democratic presidential candidate since 1996.

Senator Martha McSally, presented to a Senate committee on banking, housing and urban affairs in Washington in July 2019, was defeated by Kelly in the November 3 election. (Erin Scott / Reuters)

McSally was appointed to her seat in 2019 to replace the late Republican Senator John McCain. His appointment only lasted until last month’s special election was officially certified, which took place this week. This paved the way for Kelly to take office and fill the remainder of McCain’s six-year tenure, which means Kelly will face re-election in 2022.

Kelly was parachuted into a frenzied lame duck session in which lawmakers and U.S. President Donald Trump have so far been deadlocked on whether to deliver a COVID-19 relief package ahead of the vacation worth. hundreds of billions of dollars. They are also trying to tackle year-end budget work and a defense policy bill.

Kelly presented himself as a problem-solving center during his campaign. His slim two percentage point victory over McSally suggests he will be part of the Democrats’ moderate wing.

In a written statement after taking office, he invoked the “independence” of the late McCain, who has sometimes crossed party lines and now occupies the seat.

“I am determined to work with Republicans and Democrats and use science, data and facts to craft policies that will help us overcome our greatest challenges,” Kelly said, citing the coronavirus pandemic and the hampered economy.

In what was one of the country’s most expensive Senate races, Kelly raised US $ 89 million. This was right after the $ 108 million raised by defeated South Carolina Democratic Senate candidate Jaime Harrison, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Republican Cory Gardner of Colorado and Democrat Doug Jones of Alabama were the only other Senate incumbents defeated last month.

The son of two police officers, Kelly is a retired astronaut who flew four space missions, including time spent aboard the International Space Station. He was also a US Navy pilot who flew combat missions during Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s.

Giffords, then a member of the United States Congress, is rushed into an ambulance after being shot in the head during a meeting with voters in Tucson, Ariz. In January 2011. (James Palka / Associated Press)

Giffords was seriously injured in a mass shooting in 2011 in which six people were killed and a dozen others injured. She and Kelly have become prominent figures in the unsuccessful efforts to pressure Congress to strengthen gun control.

“Nice day, great day,” Giffords told reporters afterwards.

Kelly is the fourth astronaut to be elected to Congress. John Glenn was a Democratic senator from Ohio and Harrison Schmitt was a Republican senator from New Mexico. Republican Jack Swigert was elected to the Colorado House but died of cancer before taking office.

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