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Against Trump's Wishes, Georgia Gov. Appoints Kelly Loeffler To Fill Senate Seat

Kelly Loeffler (left) and Mary Brock, co-owners of the Atlanta Dream WNBA team, cheer from their courtside seats at a game in 2011. Loeffler was appointed to fill a soon-to-be vacant U.S. Senate seat representing Georgia.
David Tulis
Kelly Loeffler (left) and Mary Brock, co-owners of the Atlanta Dream WNBA team, cheer from their courtside seats at a game in 2011. Loeffler was appointed to fill a soon-to-be vacant U.S. Senate seat representing Georgia.

Updated 12:30 p.m. ET

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday formally named businesswoman and political novice Kelly Loeffler as his pick to replace Sen. Johnny Isakson, who is retiring at the end of this month.

Loeffler's is slated to take office on Jan. 1, the day after Isakson steps down. In August, Isakson cited health concerns as the reason for leaving office with three years left in his term.

While Kemp's selection of Loeffler was widely expected, it nonetheless is a controversial choice in Republican circles. It has also touched off an intraparty fight waged by allies of President Trump, who reportedly wanted Kemp to go in another direction.

The president, who stumped for Kemp ahead of his narrow victory in Georgia's gubernatorial race last year, reportedly wanted him to appoint Rep. Doug Collins, a staunch Trump ally and the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.

Loeffler is the wealthy CEO of the financial platform Bakkt, a subsidiary of Intercontinental Exchange, as well as a co-owner of the Atlanta Dream WNBA franchise.

She will be just the second woman to represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate, reports Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler, who adds, "if she wins a special election next fall, she will be the first Georgia woman elected to the [U.S.] Senate."

"I'm a lifelong conservative, pro-Second Amendment, pro-military, pro-wall and pro-Trump," Loeffler said at her announcement. "And I make no apologies for my conservative values and will proudly support President Trump's conservative judges."

Loeffler has never held elective office. But once she's sworn in, she will have to run for the Senate seat in each of the next two election cycles: a special election in 2020 and again for a full six-year Senate term in 2022, when Isakson would have been up for reelection.

Ahead of her appointment, Loeffler faced resistance from conservatives both inside and outside Georgia.

As reporter Emma Hurt of member station WABE reports: "Loeffler herself has faced backlash in the past week from some members of Georgia's conservative political community for past donations to Mitt Romney and ties to former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who did legal work for the WNBA team that Loeffler co-owns."

Other high-profile Trump supporters took to social media to voice their concerns about Loeffler being Kemp's choice.

Fox News host Sean Hannity questioned Kemp's selection to his more than 4 million followers on Twitter, urging them to "Call @BrianKempGA now! Why is he appointing Kelly Loeffler?"

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., tweeted at Kemp, suggesting that if the governor went against Trump's wishes, he might get a primary opponent when he's up for reelection.

The Florida congressman tweeted: "If you substitute your judgement for the President's, maybe you need a primary in 2022. Let's see if you can win one w/o Trump."

Loeffler is expected to get treated like an incumbent should she decide to run in 2020. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday that Loeffler is "a terrific appointment."

"She will be an incumbent Republican senator. We will all be behind her," McConnell said. "Sen. [Todd] Young has already made it clear the [National Republican Senatorial Committee] is going to be behind her. I'm going to be behind her, and I'm confident that someone we're working with every day will enjoy total support from the Republican conference."

Collins leaves door open for future Senate run

For his part, Collins has tried to stay out of the fray. He's playing a central role in the impeachment inquiry of the president as the process on Wednesday moves to the House Judiciary Committee.

However, in an interview with Fox News over the weekend, Collins was pressed on what he planned to do if Kemp passed on him in favor of Loeffler.

"My full focus and attention is on impeachment, and also as I look forward to what is best for Georgia, those will be the things that will play into my mind, but right now first and foremost is defending against this faux, sham impeachment," Collins said.

But when asked whether he will mount a challenge to Loeffler, he said: "Let's see what the governor does first. I think he's heard from a lot of folks."

"But if he does [choose Loeffler], that will be a decision we'll have to make at that point," Collins said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: December 4, 2019 at 12:00 AM EST
An earlier version of this story mistakenly referred to Intercontinental Exchange as International Exchange.
Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.