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GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson to resign at end of year

GOP Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonLoeffler group targets Democrats with billboards around baseball stadium Warnock raises nearly M since January victory Five big takeaways on Georgia's new election law 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.

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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 AlexanderThe Republicans' deep dive into nativism Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation - CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality MORE (R-Tenn.), Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziThe unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation - CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality Lummis adopts 'laser eyes' meme touting Bitcoin MORE (R-Wyo.) and Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsSenate GOP faces retirement brain drain Roy Blunt won't run for Senate seat in 2022 Lobbying world MORE (R-Kan.), who were each up for reelection in 2020, have announced that they will leave the Senate. Democratic Sen. Tom UdallTom UdallStudy: Chemical used in paint thinners caused more deaths than EPA identified Oregon senator takes center stage in Democratic filibuster debate Bipartisan bill seeks to raise fees for public lands drilling 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 TrumpDemocrats, activists blast reported Trump DOJ effort to get journalists' phone records Arizona secretary of state gets security detail over death threats surrounding election audit Trump admin got phone records of WaPo reporters covering Russia probe: report MORE's criticism of the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainEx-McSally aide pleads guilty to stealing over 0K in campaign funds DOJ: Arizona recount could violate civil rights laws Cheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women MORE (R-Ariz.) "deplorable," and defended Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterAmericans for Prosperity launches campaign targeting six Democrats to oppose ending filibuster Overnight Defense: Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform | US troops begin leaving Afghanistan | Biden budget delay pushes back annual defense policy bill Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform 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 WarnerFacebook board decision on Trump ban pleases no one Schumer works to balance a divided caucus's demands Senate Intel vows to 'get to the bottom' of 'Havana syndrome' attacks MORE (D-Va.) tweeted.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Cornyn is most prolific tweeter in Congress so far in 2021 Schumer 'exploring' passing immigration unilaterally if talks unravel MORE (R-Texas), meanwhile, called Isakson a "wonderful human being and a great Senator." And Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntBiden to meet with 6 GOP senators next week Republicans embrace Trump in effort to reclaim Senate GOP attorneys general group in turmoil after Jan. 6 Trump rally 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.