McCain’s Ability to Serve Questioned After Cancer Diagnosis

PHOENIX (CN) – U.S. Sen. John McCain has returned home to Arizona to fight brain cancer – and speculation about the future of his seat.

McCain’s announcement on July 19 that he has glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, has placed a spotlight on what might happen should he eventually decide to resign.

On July 14, McCain underwent a procedure to remove a blood clot from his left eye at the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix. The clinic later determined that this clot was cancerous and infected with glioblastoma.

The U.S. Constitution leaves it up to the states to decide how to fill their mid-term vacancies in the Senate.

In Arizona, that task falls on Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who would have to pick an interim senator from McCain’s own party should the longtime senator resign.

Dr. Richard Herrera, associate director of the Arizona State University School of Politics and Global Studies, told Courthouse News that the person appointed by Ducey would not serve a six-year term since McCain just won reelection in November. Instead, the person appointed by Ducey would serve until the next general election, on Nov. 6, 2018.

“The person who would win Sen. McCain’s open seat in that case, whether it’s the person that’s appointed or someone else, would fill out the remainder of Sen. McCain’s term,” Herrera said. “So, it wouldn’t be another six-year term. It would just be what was remaining on his term.”

Arizona media outlets and some members of the state’s Republican Party have begun toying with names of possible replacements. An article in The Arizona Republic floated the possibility that Ducey could nominate himself, leading to a fierce denial from the governor’s spokesman.

“We have zero attention focused on a ‘replacement’ and talk of the sort is completely inappropriate,” Ducey’s senior press secretary Patrick Ptak told Courthouse News.

In a series of tweets last week, Ducey’s deputy chief of staff Daniel Scarpinato also clapped back at the notion.

“This article/headline is irresponsible speculation run amok and misleading to Arizonans,” Scarpinato wrote in one tweet.

In another he added: “Gov. Ducey has never and would never consider such a ridiculous notion, no matter the circumstance. This is not an option.”

In a statement, the Arizona Republican Party said they back statements made by Ducey’s team on the matter of a replacement.

Arizonans have a long history with McCain, who has served as a senator of the Grand Canyon State since he was first elected in 1986.

Linda Kouragian, a Flagstaff restaurant manager, said she doesn’t think a discussion on a possible replacement should happen unless McCain decides to step down.

“I don’t think [his diagnosis] should affect him right now. If it does, his doctors will tell him that,” Kouragian said. “The guy has been around a long time. He’s done a lot of things. He should know, ’Okay, I need to back out.’”

Kelli Ward, a Republican and a former Arizona state senator who ran against McCain last year in the primaries, has asked for McCain’s resignation. Ward lost to McCain, 59 to 31 percent.

“When the time comes that Sen. McCain can no longer perform his duties in the Senate at full capacity, he owes it to the people of Arizona to step aside,” Ward said in a statement.

Ward also expressed an interest, to an Indiana radio station, in replacing McCain. She’s currently running against Sen. Jeff Flake, also a Republican.

The radio host, after endorsing the idea of getting both McCain and Flake out of office, asked Ward if she would be considered for an empty seat.

“I certainly hope so,” Ward responded.

Ward did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Michael Callahan, a Tucson etymologist, thinks it’s reasonable that McCain’s constituents would want to talk about the matter.

“I believe it’s a fairly high-fatality condition,” Callahan said. “I’m certainly not running out and saying somebody should start campaigning right now, nothing like that. But people can consider it.”

The average survival time following a first diagnosis of glioblastoma is 14 to 16 months, doctors say.

Not all citizens feel comfortable with the state’s approach to filling open senate seats. Aric Platero, also of Flagstaff, said the public should have more involvement in the appointment process.

“I don’t think [the process] should all be behind closed doors,” Platero said. “I think there should be an open, public forum of some sort.”

McCain has yet to announce any plans for resignation. After his diagnosis, he traveled to Capitol Hill to place the deciding vote against a partial repeal of the Affordable Care Act. On July 31, he returned to Arizona to begin the standard post-surgical treatment of targeted radiation and chemotherapy.

McCain’s office did not return repeated requests for comment.


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