GOP Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonSchumer makes plea for voting bill, filibuster reform in rare Friday session Jan. 6 brings Democrats, Cheneys together — with GOP mostly absent Pelosi leads moment of silence for Jan. 6 with no Republicans except Cheneys MORE (Ga.) announced Wednesday that he will step down from the Senate at the end of the year, citing health issues.
"After much prayer and consultation with my family and my doctors, I have made the very tough decision to leave the U.S. Senate at the end of this year. I have informed Georgia Governor Brian Kemp today that I will resign my Senate seat effective December 31, 2019," Isakson said in a statement.
Isakson, 74, was reelected to the Senate in 2016, but his political future has been the subject of speculation for years.
He underwent two back surgeries in 2017 and fractured his ribs during a fall in his Washington, D.C., apartment last month.
In his statement on Wednesday, he cited ongoing health issues as his primary reason for stepping down early.
"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," Isakson said.
He sent a letter on Wednesday to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) notifying him of his decision to leave the Senate early.
"I therefore am notifying you that I am resigning my U.S. Senate seat effective Dec. 31, 2019. While it pains me greatly to leave in the middle of my term, I know it is the right thing to do for the citizens of Georgia," Isakson wrote.
Isakson's term runs through 2022, and Kemp, under state law, is allowed to fill the vacant Senate seat.
A special election will be held to fill the remaining two years of Isakson’s term during the next regularly scheduled election, meaning Georgia voters will cast ballots for both of the state's Senate seats in 2020, when Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) is also up for reelection.
Isakson's decision to retire immediately sparked speculation that Democrats could try to lure Stacey Abrams, who lost the state's 2018 gubernatorial race, to run for his seat in the special election. But a spokesman for Abrams shut the door on a new 2020 Senate bid, saying Abrams would not be a candidate.
"Leader 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. While she will not be a candidate herself, she is committed to helping Democratic candidates win both Senate races next year,” Seth Bringman, spokesman for Abrams, said in a statement.
Isakson is the fourth Republican senator in the past year to announce that they will retire. Sens. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderMcConnell gets GOP wake-up call The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats return to disappointment on immigration Authorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate MORE (R-Tenn.), Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziLobbying world Cheney on same-sex marriage opposition: 'I was wrong' What Republicans should demand in exchange for raising the debt ceiling MORE (R-Wyo.) and Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsBiden remembers Dole as 'master of the Senate' at National Cathedral Bob Dole: heroic, prickly and effective McConnell gets GOP wake-up call MORE (R-Kan.), who were each up for reelection in 2020, have announced that they will leave the Senate. Democratic Sen. Tom UdallTom UdallCruz to get Nord Stream 2 vote as part of deal on Biden nominees Democrats threaten to play hardball over Cruz's blockade Rubio vows to slow-walk Biden's China, Spain ambassador nominees MORE (N.M.) has also announced he will retire instead of run for reelection next year.
Isakson first joined the Senate in 2005 after spending six years in the House. He currently chairs the Senate Ethics and Veterans Affairs committees and serves on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; Finance; and Foreign Relations committees.
He captured headlines earlier this year when he called President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger welcomes baby boy Tennessee lawmaker presents self-defense bill in 'honor' of Kyle Rittenhouse Five things to know about the New York AG's pursuit of Trump MORE's criticism of the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainRedistricting reform key to achieving the bipartisanship Americans claim to want Kelly takes under-the-radar approach in Arizona Senate race Voting rights, Trump's Big Lie, and Republicans' problem with minorities MORE (R-Ariz.) "deplorable," and defended Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Connected Commerce Council - Biden faces reporters as his agenda teeters Democrats' filibuster gambit unravels Biden: 'I don't know whether we can get this done' MORE (D-Mont.) against backlash from Trump in the wake of Ronny Jackson's withdrawal from consideration as the next Veterans Affairs secretary.
Senators on Wednesday quickly praised Isakson, who remains well-liked in both parties despite growing partisanship in the Senate.
"He's a gentleman who's spent his career looking for common ground and actually trying to accomplish something in Washington. Wishing Johnny and Dianne all the best today," Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerBiden moves to boost security of sensitive national security systems We are America's independent contractors, and we are terrified Hillicon Valley: Amazon's Alabama union fight — take two MORE (D-Va.) tweeted.
Sen. John CornynJohn CornynAll hostages free, safe after hours-long standoff at Texas synagogue: governor McConnell will run for another term as leader despite Trump's attacks Republicans threaten floor takeover if Democrats weaken filibuster MORE (R-Texas), meanwhile, called Isakson a "wonderful human being and a great Senator." And Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntJohnson, Thune signal GOP's rising confidence Senate Minority Whip Thune, close McConnell ally, to run for reelection The end of orphanages starts with family strengthening programs MORE (R-Mo.) said in a statement that "no one is more respected by the other members of the Senate than Johnny Isakson is."
Reid Wilson contributed to this report, which was updated at 11:33 a.m.