Georgia’s US Sen. Isakson bids farewell to Senate colleagues

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Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., meets with his staff in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Dec. 2, 2019, as he prepares to deliver his farewell address on the floor of the Senate tomorrow. Isakson, a three-term senator, announced last summer that he would resign from the Senate on Dec. 31 for health reasons. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

ATLANTA, GA – Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson made a plea for bipartisanship in a farewell speech Tuesday that took aim at the bitter division between the GOP and Democrats embroiled in a presidential impeachment investigation and nearing the start of a high-stakes election year.

Stating bluntly that “in America, we’ve got a problem,” Isakson urged assembled lawmakers to work together and ignore the partisans eager to call them insults like Republican In Name Only — a term some conservatives are already using to criticize the Georgia businesswoman expected to take Isakson’s place shortly.

“We may be called a liberal, we may be called a RINO, or we may be called whatever it is. Let’s solve the problem and then see what happens,” Isakson said from the Senate floor in Washington. “Most people who call people names and point fingers are people who don’t have a solution themselves.”

Isakson, 74, announced in August that he would step down before the end of the year because Parkinson’s disease and other medical issues were taking a toll on his health. Though he won a third term in 2016 and would have faced reelection in 2022, Isakson entered the Senate chamber Tuesday using a walker for assistance.

He cited his long friendship with Democratic Rep. John Lewis, one of Georgia’s civil rights heroes, as proof that lawmakers with political differences can find common ground.

Isakson’s exit raises Georgia’s status as a 2020 political battleground and gives Democrats an unexpected opening in a Southern state where the Republican grip on statewide elections has shown signs of slipping. The seat will go up for grabs next November in a special election for the last two years of Isakson’s term. Republican Sen. David Perdue also will be on Georgia’s 2020 ballot, seeking reelection.

The farewell speech calling for unity came as President Donald Trump’s supporters have openly criticized Gov. Brian Kemp for his expected pick to replace Isakson until the next election.

A GOP political consultant, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that Kemp will appoint wealthy business executive Kelly Loeffler. Trump supporters say she’s too moderate and inexperienced for the role. Kemp is set to formally announce his pick Wednesday morning.