Sen. Johnny Isakson announced Wednesday he’ll resign his seat at the end of the year, saying his health has deteriorated to the point where he no longer believes he’s able to give his Georgia constituents the service they deserve.
Mr. Isakson, a Republican, said he will serve out the year, but will leave Dec. 31.
In an email to supporters he said he hated to have to make the decision.
“It goes against every fiber of my being to leave in the middle of my Senate term, but I know it’s the right thing to do on behalf of my state,” he wrote.
Under Georgia’s rules, the governor will appoint a replacement who will serve until the next election, which would be November 2020. Georgia’s other U.S. Senate seat is also up for grabs at the same time.
The opening immediately sparked questions about Stacey Abrams, whose failed bid for the state’s governorship last year made her a liberal hero. But Ms. Abrams, who already passed on a race against incumbent Sen. David Perdue in 2020, said she’s not angling for Mr. Isakson’s seat, either.
“Abrams’ focus will not change: She will lead voter protection efforts in key states across the country, and make sure Democrats are successful in Georgia in 2020,” her spokeswoman said in a statement Ms. Abrams posted on Twitter. “While she will not be a candidate herself, she is committed to helping Democratic candidates win both Senate races next year.”
Mr. Isakson, in his third term in the Senate, frequently uses a cane to get around the Capitol, where he is a beloved figure among colleagues.
“He showed inspiring courage fighting Parkinson’s, often moving his broken body on the Senate floor by sheer force of will,” said Sen. Richard Durbin, Illinois Democrat. “He is one of our best and I will miss him.”
Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, called Mr. Isakson “one of the kindest, most thoughtful senators.”
“Independent of any party or politics, everyone will miss Johnny,” he said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, called Mr. Isakson “the gold standard for a U.S. senator.”
Mr. Isakson first came to Congress in 1999, having won the seat vacated by Rep. Newt Gingrich. In 2004 he won his Senate seat, taking over for retiring Sen. Zell Miller, a Democrat.
Mr. Isakson serves as chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee and the Senate’s ethics panel.
In a statement issued by his office, Mr. Isakson described his mounting health issues.
“I am leaving a job I love because my health challenges are taking their toll on me, my family and my staff. My Parkinson’s has been progressing, and I am continuing physical therapy to recover from a fall in July. In addition, this week I had surgery to remove a growth on my kidney,” said Mr. Isakson, 74.