Nebraska’s new governor on Jan. 12 appointed the just-departed governor who backed his campaign to the U.S. Senate.
Pillen said he viewed Ricketts as “the best person to represent us” in the Senate.
He also said he did not want to pick a placeholder.
“I think it’s very, very important when you fill an appointment, you have a person committed to the long haul,” he said at a press conference announcing his choice.
Pillen’s office had asked for applications from interested parties in December 2022. Pillen received 111 applicants and interviewed nine people.
“I’m very grateful for this unexpected opportunity to be able to continue to serve the people of Nebraska,” Ricketts said.
Ricketts spent more than $1 million to give to a political action committee that ran advertisements attacking Pillen’s primary candidates, and $100,000 to Pillen’s campaign, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
“I was proud to support you in your campaign,” Ricketts said on Thursday.
Ricketts was prevented by term limits from running for a third term.
Sasse left Congress on Jan. 8 to become president of the University of Florida.
Sasse was reelected in 2018. Senate terms are six years. Ricketts will serve until early 2025. Voters will get to select who holds the seat in the 2024 election, then who will serve a full term in the 2026 election.
The Nebraska Democratic Party decried Pillen’s move.
“The ‘totally transparent’ process happened in 3 days, they interviewed 9 people out of the 111 that applied,” the party said in a statement.
The Nebraska Republican Party congratulated Ricketts.
“We look forward to having you defend Nebraska’s Good Life values in D.C.,” the party said.
Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) joined the press conference announcing the appointment.
“We know that Pete knows the state of Nebraska. And we know that Pete loves the state of Nebraska. I know that he is going to a wonderful job in continuing to serve the people of this state. And I look forward to partnering with him as we move forward on the big issues that are before us,” Fischer said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that Pillen “could not have found a more capable leader to take the baton from our colleague Senate Sasse and fight for the Cornhusker State,” highlighting in part how he sees Ricketts as having led the fight against COVID-19 in Nebraska “without losing common sense.”
Ricketts could have made the appointment before he left office, but he chose to leave it up to his successor. Pillen defeated Democrat state Sen. Carol Blood in the general gubernatorial election.
Ricketts, a former financial executive, failed a run for the U.S. Senate in 2006, losing to then-Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) by more than 164,000 votes.
Ricketts said he intended to bring the experience he gained while governor to Washington. He believes government can work and that Congress can hold the Biden administration accountable. He also hopes to challenge the Chinese Communist Party.
Once Ricketts is sworn in, the Senate will go back to 49 Republicans and 51 Democrats or independents who caucus with the Democrats. Republicans lost one seat, a Pennsylvania seat, in the midterm elections.
More on Selection
“This is a very, very hard decision,” Pillen said.
Pillen indicated he expects Ricketts to run and win in both 2024 and 2026, and that Ricketts won’t resign like Sasse did, a factor that helped him choose the former governor.
“Gov. Ricketts has assured me that no matter who calls him for a different job, he is committed to the United States Senate,” Pillen said.
Jane Kleeb, chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, had said that Pillen would “continue the legacy of backdoor dealings” that his predecessor allegedly carried out” if he picked Ricketts.
Pillen responded to questions about the pick, including the suspicion that Ricketts’ support of his campaign led to the appointment, saying a lot of work was done to vet and think through candidates.