Tribune News Service/ Atlanta
Georgia governor Brian Kemp appointed financial executive Kelly Loeffler to the US Senate yesterday, selecting the co-owner of Atlanta’s WNBA franchise over a congressman that President Donald Trump repeatedly urged the Republican to pick. In remarks in Kemp’s ceremonial office, Loeffler presented herself as a lifelong conservative who is “pro-Second Amendment, pro-military, pro-wall and pro-Trump” to counter criticism pitting her as a closet liberal.
“I make no apologies for my conservative values,” she said, “and will proudly support President Trump’s conservative judges.”
Kemp was surrounded by high-ranking Republican officials when he made the announcement, hoping to present a united front for Loeffler amid mounting conservative criticism of his pick.
“We need less critics and more public servants,” he said, urging Georgians to rally around Loeffler. “There’s one thing I know for certain when it comes to making significant reforms and that is this: We are better and stronger together.”
Loeffler will become the second woman in Georgia history to serve in the US Senate when she is sworn in next year to succeed Republican Johnny Isakson, who is stepping down because of health issues.
Her selection ends months of manoeuvring for the coveted seat, but it seems likely to open a tumultuous new phase. US Rep. Doug Collins recently said he is “strongly” considering a run for the Senate seat if he’s not picked.
“I appreciate the support I have received from the president and many others,” said Collins yesterday, “and right now, my primary focus is defending our president against partisan impeachment attacks.”
It also creates a stark rift with the president, whose endorsement of Kemp last year helped him win a heated runoff. The president has repeatedly urged the governor to tap Collins, and a secretive meeting in Washington with Loeffler didn’t win him over.
The news of Kemp’s decision, first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week, triggered even more backlash from conservatives who accused him of betraying Trump. Fox News personality Sean Hannity urged his fans to clog Kemp’s phone lines with their complaints, and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, said it would be the “funeral” for his political career.
Collins’ allies had aggressively pushed Kemp to change his mind, describing the Gainesville Republican as a champion Trump needs to defend him against impeachment proceedings headed for the US Senate. But Kemp has long wanted to pick a candidate who is a woman or minority, mindful that his selection will be on the ballot in 2020 and also potentially on the ticket with him in 2022 when he could face a rematch against Democrat Stacey Abrams.
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