Following his resignation announcement citing health issues, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson shared insights into what led him to his decision to step down and speaks about the impact of naming his successor.
Bill Nigut: Sen. Isakson thank you so much for joining us today. I know that you have already talked to a number of news organizations you said in your statement about why now is the time that you have to step down. But why don't you just very briefly tell us what led to this decision.
Johnny Isakson: All my life when I was growing up my mother used to always tell me to listen to my body — that it would tell me what I needed to do if I didn't feel good and what I need to do. And I've been listening to my body for about eight years since I got diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and I just knew this summer that it was getting close to the time that if I couldn't give 100% to the people that elected me — they deserved it — and I need to do something where they get 100% otherwise. And so, I'm going to give them a 100% of what I got left for a long, long time. But I thought it was a time for me to go out right now when we could prepare for it and handle correctly and that's why I did it.
Nigut: You are a shrewd, smart politician.
Isakson: Well, I appreciate that.
U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson is stepping down from his seat at the end of the year. Political Rewind host Bill Nigut reports on the announcement and looks back on Isakson's political career. https://t.co/2FDsMlUdFm #GaPol pic.twitter.com/ydL6Z58oip
— Political Rewind with Bill Nigut (@PoliticsGPB) August 28, 2019
Nigut: You had to know when you were making this decision what an enormous impact it was going to have on the 2020 election cycle in Georgia: to suddenly have two Senate seats open in 2020. As you thought about the personal decision based on your physical condition, how did you think about it in terms of the politics of what you've now set in motion?
Isakson: Well, in that comparison, I think what I've set in motion is a pretty orderly way to handle a situation that's unusual but covered in our Constitution and in history. In fact, in Oklahoma you had the same thing happen a couple of years ago when Tom Coburn stepped down. It's an orderly process that's happened before. Georgia's got a great constitutional succession ladder and what happens and who does what. So, it would be orderly and we did it this way rather than all of a sudden hush-hush, rush rush decision. I don't ever make decisions that way, never have and never will.
Nigut: Yes, but you also know that what many people think is going to happen now is that the door is open for Democrats to have the opportunity to win possibly not just one seat but two. So, Georgia suddenly becomes the center of the 2020 Senate universe doesn't it?
Isakson: Yeah, but everybody's been saying what we all know and that is that things have been changing in Georgia for a number of years. Everybody tried to say, 'We're going purple, we're drawing red, we're going blue, we're going all these colors.' The fact of the matter is we're the eighth-largest state in the country. We're very influential; we've had a history of good people who serve in office and a lot of people who want to serve in the future. Georgia is going to be a major player and I'm glad I was a part of getting us to that point.
Nigut: You've said that you are available should Kemp ask your advice on who he should replace temporarily before the special election next year. He's going to be under an enormous amount of pressure in terms of the kind of Republican that he is likely to appoint to your seat temporarily. The Trump forces are going to want someone who's a strong Trump supporter, there are others who are going to hope for someone who is in your mold. Someone who works somewhat independently, has been loyal to the president but also charts your own course. How do you feel about this choice that Kemp's going to have coming up?
Isakson: Well, we're lucky in Georgia to have a very fine man and woman as governor and first lady and he'll do a great job. I've known him both a long, long time. He's a thoughtful politician and for him this is a very big decision and I know that. But he's the kind of guy that can make big decisions and make them right.
Nigut: You've been at times critical to some extent of President Trump. Did the kind of atmosphere in the United States Senate on Capitol Hill these days, the partisanship and fighting back and forth, did it weigh it all into your thinking that now is as good a time as any given your physical condition, that it was time to get out of that charged environment?
Isakson: Not really. It didn't play into it at all. But, what played into my decision was doing the right thing for me and the right thing for the people of Georgia. That was most important. But I will tell you this in the last year I had a couple of occasions to try and set the president straight on a couple of things. He said one about John McCain and the other about Charlottesville, Virginia, and I did so on the floor of the United States Senate and I think I turned the discourse on those subjects to a much better light than they would have been otherwise. And I was proud to step out then and I'll do it in the future whether I'm in the Senate or a past senator.
Nigut: Sen. Isakson, I know that you've said you're going to continue playing a role in public life and I'd have no doubt that that's true. Congratulations on making a very difficult decision. But we look forward to seeing Isakson involved in public service for many years to come. Thanks for talking to us today, Senator.
Isakson: Well thank you for your friendship and thank you for your courage and thank you for talking to me.