Sean Pergola, Contributing Photographer

The Jackson Institute for Global Affairs is well known for hosting high-caliber speakers in its virtual events, and current United States Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), a former astronaut and retired Navy captain, is by no means an exception.

The Jackson Institute hosted Kelly for a conversation panel on Tuesday. Kelly rose to political prominence after campaigning for gun control legislation in Arizona and secured his Senate seat in 2020 after defeating Republican incumbent Martha McSally in a special election. During the panel, Kelly discussed at length the importance of technological innovation and bipartisan compromise. The conversation was guided by moderator James Hatch ’23, an Eli Whitney student, former Navy SEAL and personal friend of Kelly.

“Mark is a special guy, given his background, and it’s important for people to get as much exposure to him as they can get,” Hatch told the News. “Both for his state and our country, we need to have more of what he has, and we need it now.”

Hatch specifically praised Kelly’s determination to be “a middle-of-the-road kind of guy,” in addition to his devotion to scientific facts — Kelly did not shy away from technical matters in his speech.

Kelly commented on the “great success” of Operation Warp Speed under former President Donald Trump, celebrated the success of NASA’s most recent Mars rover project and discussed the United States’ development of microchips.

Kelly introduced these technological innovations as issues of both economic and national security importance. When discussing the supply chain of semiconductors, he emphasized the shortcomings of United States’ manufacturing compared to Taiwanese capabilities, and mentioned his support of the CHIPS for America Act to incentivize domestic microchip manufacturers.

Quinn Moss ’24 attended the event and noted her surprise about Kelly’s special emphasis on technology.

“I thought it was interesting that [Kelly] framed these technical issues as a potential point of bipartisan agreement, like for example … the development of microchips in opposition to Chinese manufacturing,” Moss said. “It’s not really an issue I had thought about before, especially not in the context of international relations.”

Interwoven in Kelly’s discussions of international competition was a theme of American exceptionalism: Kelly stated with confidence that the United States could outcompete other countries due to its uniquely innovative population.

Although optimistic, Kelly acknowledged that the United States seemed to be falling behind other world powers. He said current development “wasn’t sustainable,” which he said was one of his primary reasons for his Senate campaign. He maintained that greater focus on education could change the country’s “trajectory” and allow the United States to capitalize on its exceptional capabilities.

“This is what’s going to keep us competitive with our adversaries around the world — that we are really good at science and technology and engineering,” Kelly said. “We’ve got the most creative people in the world, we’ve got the best universities … like Yale and others and great students.”

The senator also spoke about his hope for bipartisan compromise to benefit the United States as a whole. He especially emphasized the need for bipartisan support of COVID-19 relief bills, which included allocation of funds towards the development of broadband access in rural areas.

Kelly spoke with reverence of the former Sen. John McCain, who previously held Kelly’s Senate seat, and his ability to reach across the aisle. “[It’s] certainly something that I’m going to strive towards, especially right now,” Kelly said. He mentioned McCain’s work with a bipartisan working group to pass a comprehensive infrastructure bill and discussed the importance of coalition building to pass such measures.

“In this era of hyper-partisanship and political extremism, it is refreshing to hear Senator Kelly discuss the importance of practical, common-sense policy solutions grounded in science, facts, and expert analysis,” Edward Wittenstein ’04 LAW ’12, deputy director for leadership programs at the Jackson Institute, said.

Director of the Jackson Institute James Levinsohn expressed satisfaction with the conversation panel and praised Hatch and with Kelly for their contributions.

“One focus of Jackson is a commitment to public service and Senator Kelly exemplifies that,”  Levinsohn wrote in an email to the News. “I thought the Jackson community might learn from and enjoy hearing from Sen. Kelly and having Jimmy Hatch, a Yale College second year, conduct the interview only made it more special. Both Mark Kelly and Jimmy Hatch are very, very special people.”

Sen. Mark Kelly resides in Tucson, Arizona, along with his wife, former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.

Sean Pergola | sean.pergola@yale.edu