‘I know I have to earn the trust and support of the president…’
(Liberty Headlines) Wealthy Republican businesswoman Kelly Loeffler was sworn in Monday as the newest senator from Georgia, a political newcomer who takes office amid a momentous and divisive time on Capitol Hill.
GOP faithful were cautiously optimistic that Loeffler would prove an ardent and loyal ally to embattled President Donald Trump as he fights a partisan impeachment by Democrats in the U.S. House and escalating tensions over Iranian aggression following the killing of a top terrorist mastermind, Qassem Soleimani.
Loeffler replaces three-term GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson, 75, who stepped down in December because of health issues.
Georgia GOP Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Loeffler to the vacant seat despite a preference by Trump and his conservative allies for Rep. Doug Collins, a Trump loyalist and top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.
Kemp’s choice of Loeffler was seen as a bid to court suburban and female voters, a key demographic group that appeared, by some accounts, to repudiate the Trump-led GOP during the 2018 midterm election.
Loeffler was sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence, the Senate’s chief officer, reciting the oath on the floor of the chamber. Of the roughly 20 senators present, just one was a Democrat—Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, who faces his own difficult reelection this fall.
Disappointed by the snub of Collins—who figured prominently into the recent House impeachment hearings as the minority foil to Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY—Trump backers initially criticized Loeffler, 49, as too moderate and inexperienced when her appointment was announced in December.
She has spent the past several weeks traveling Georgia and trying to win over conservatives with a “pro-Second Amendment, pro-Trump, pro-military and pro-wall” message.
In a brief interview after taking office, Loeffler said she’s not spoken to Trump since being appointed.
“I know I have to earn the trust and support of the president,” she said. “And I’m going to work very hard to do that through my actions and my votes, and I’m confident that that will happen.”
She’s already said she plans to vote against removing Trump from office. “I don’t think there was due process followed in the House proceeding,” she said, echoing one of the many criticisms other Republicans have raise over the process.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has refused, even after passing the articles last month, to formalize the impeachment by submitting them to the Senate. Republicans are now looking to dismiss them under a “failure to prosecute” rule should Democrats continue to stall.
Despite the initial reservations from some GOP colleagues, Loeffler won praise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who called her “a terrific appointment” and said the Senate GOP campaign committee will support her.
She becomes the ninth Republican woman currently serving in the Senate, and the 26th woman counting the entire chamber.
She previously served as an executive at Intercontinental Exchange, a behemoth founded by her husband that owns the New York Stock Exchange. When Kemp selected her, Loeffler was CEO of Bakkt, a financial services firm. She’s also an owner of the Atlanta Dream, a franchise in the Women’s National Basketball Association.
Loeffler, a GOP donor, will have to defend the seat in a special election in November, which under Georgia law will in effect be an open primary with candidates—perhaps multiple ones—from all parties.
If one contender doesn’t win more than half the vote, the top two finishers will face a runoff on Jan. 5, 2021.
Çollins has declined to rule out challenging Loeffler for the seat in November. “We are looking at it, and we’ll be making a decision soon,” he said Sunday on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo.”
Loeffler has pledged to spend $20 million of her own money, spokesman Ryan Mahoney has said, on what will be her first political campaign. That’s left some Washington Republicans looking skeptically at a Collins run.
“She’s a real conservative, a Trumper, and she’s putting $20 million behind it,” said Scott Reed, chief political strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “That’s called peace through strength.”
The potential Democratic field against Loeffler remains unclear. The most recognized potential challenger so far is Matt Lieberman, son of former Connecticut senator and vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman.
Also on Georgia’s ballot in November will be Republican Sen. David Perdue, who is seeking reelection. Having both of Georgia’s GOP-controlled Senate seats up for grabs this year has raised the state’s profile as a political battleground where Republicans have long dominated.
But Democrats—still licking their wounds from Stacey Abrams‘s high-profile and costly defeat in the 2018 gubernatorial election versus Kemp are looking for an upset.