Senate

GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson to resign at end of year

GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson (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 Alexander (R-Tenn.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who were each up for reelection in 2020, have announced that they will leave the Senate. Democratic Sen. Tom Udall (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 Trump's criticism of the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) "deplorable," and defended Sen. Jon Tester (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 Warner (D-Va.) tweeted.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), meanwhile, called Isakson a "wonderful human being and a great Senator." And Sen. Roy Blunt (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.

Outbrain