Arizona Senator Mark Kelly is sworn in

Former astronaut and US Navy Captain Mark Kelly was sworn in to the US Senate by Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday, more than a month before the new Congress begins.

Senator Kelly won a special election against former Senator Martha McSally, who was nominated to the seat after the death of Senator John McCain in 2018. Her election moves the seat from Republican to Democrat and reduces the Republican majority in the Senate to 52-48.

With Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-az) at his side, Sen. Kelly was sworn in, followed by a nudge from Vice President Pence and applause from the other senators present. He will serve the last two years of Senator McCain’s term and is eligible for re-election in 2022.

The day before he was sworn in, he visited the grave of the late Arizona Senator John McCain (right) with his wife, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

“Senator McCain has been a hero of mine since I was a young pilot,” Kelly wrote on Twitter. “He left a legacy of service to Arizona and the country that cannot be matched, but one that we should all strive toward.”

Kelly’s wife, former Congressman Giffords, was nearly killed in a shooting in Tucson, AZ, in 2011, and he said he would prioritize the issue of gun safety to fire with others such as health care, veterans and the economy.

Senator Kelly won the seat by more than 78,000 votes, and his election marks the first time in decades that Arizona will have two Democratic senators in Washington. Prior to Senator Sinema’s election in 2018, the state had not chosen a Democrat for a seat since 1988.

President-elect Joe Biden praised Kelly on Twitter, adding “I look forward to working together to build this country back better.”

Former Senator McSally spoke on the Senate floor for the last time before Thanksgiving, and during a hearing on Tuesday she was recognized for her work in Washington by several colleagues on the Senate Banking Committee.