- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson bid farewell to the Senate on Tuesday afternoon as businesswoman Kelly Loeffler angles to fill his seat amid pro-life opposition.

Mr. Isakson, a Republican, announced in August that he had decided to step aside at the end of the year because of health concerns, particularly his battle with Parkinson’s disease. On Tuesday, Mr. Isakson said he was not hampered yet by his illness, but that he was “getting close” to having it overtake him.

“In a few days from now, you might look in the history books somewhere, current history, and they might have an Isakson in the glossary, but I doubt it,” Mr. Isakson said on the Senate floor. “You may never see this name again. I’ve been here for 15 years and I loved every minute of it. This is the most enjoyable thing I’ve ever done in my life, to be a part of the United States Senate.”

Mr. Isakson arrived in Congress in 1999, winning the election to fill former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s seat. Mr. Isakson first won election to the Senate in 2004, following Sen. Zell Miller.

Senators from both sides of the aisle praised Mr. Isakson’s leadership Tuesday and held a lunch in his honor.

“I have long said if the Senate were to hold a secret-ballot popularity contest, Johnny Isakson would win in a bipartisan landslide, quite possibly in a unanimous vote,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

Support for Mr. Isakson’s prospective replacement, Ms. Loeffler, is far from unanimous even within the GOP’s own ranks. President Trump reportedly preferred Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, for Mr. Isakson’s seat.

Instead, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to select Ms. Loeffler, a Republican businesswoman and political donor, to replace Mr. Isakson on Wednesday. Ms. Loeffler is co-owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream and is CEO of Bakkt, a subsidiary of Intercontinental Exchange Inc.

Jay Williams, a Georgia GOP strategist and founder of the Stoneridge Group, said the timing of Mr. Isakson’s departure was certainly not ideal but Republicans were appreciative that the senator gave so much advance notice for the party to prepare for his replacement.

“I think Gov. Kemp had the luxury of having a lot of great candidates to choose from, including Collins, Loeffler and others,” Mr. Williams said in an email. “He obviously feels strongly that Loeffler is the best choice. He’s continued to pick non-traditional candidates and it’s obvious his calculus is not to just do things because he’s supposed to but because [he] feels [it] is the best choice to make.”

Ms. Loeffler is a relative unknown in conservative political circles and her prospective appointment has been met with opposition from pro-life groups such as Susan B. Anthony List, March for Life Action and Concerned Women for America. The groups have expressed concern about what they view as Ms. Loeffler’s lack of pro-life commitment and conservative credentials.

Concerned Women for America President Penny Nance said her group’s opposition centers primarily around how Ms. Loeffler would address judicial nominations and any future Supreme Court vacancy. Ms. Nance previously told The Washington Times that she did not have “confidence” in Ms. Loeffler to serve as a pro-life lawmaker. Ms. Nance said she was urging the governor not be naive.

Support for Ms. Loeffler from conservative radio host Erick Erickson, an influential broadcaster from Atlanta’s WSB Radio, appears to have been crucial in neutralizing the opposition to her appointment.

Mr. Erickson wrote Tuesday that the pro-life groups’ concerns were “legitimate,” but he urged them to have faith in Mr. Kemp’s decision-making.

“If she’s not the pro-life conservative being advertised, this is going to get very messy very quickly and conservatives will be justified in rallying against Loeffler,” Mr. Erickson wrote at The Resurgent on Tuesday. “The next few weeks are going to be very critical.

“Frankly, I’m trusting the word of the Kemp team and a handful of mutual friends Loeffler and I share that she is a pro-life, socially conservative candidate. But I must concede the socially conservative groups in D.C. are right that there is no paper trail there that I know of or a history of giving to pro-life causes (Romney does not count). But there is a paper trail of giving to Democrats.”

If Ms. Loeffler successfully weathers pro-life opposition in the coming weeks, another challenge awaits in the form of a special election for the seat next year. Matt Lieberman, son of former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, has announced he is seeking the seat as a Democrat.

The Senate Majority PAC, which works to elect Democrats to flip control of the Senate, began fundraising against Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Collins on Tuesday.

“Republicans will have a tough time holding this Senate seat when their party is bitterly divided and already sounding the alarm that both GOP candidates are wrong for Georgia,” the group’s Tuesday fundraising appeal said. “Rush an urgent contribution right now to help us expand the map and take back the Senate in 2020. … The chaos in Georgia is a self-inflicted wound for the Republicans and one we cannot afford to pass up.”

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