As Senate Ethics chair prepares to step down, Republicans struggle to find replacement: Report

December 1, 2019

A GOP senator is getting ready to call it quits, leaving questions about who is going to fill his position on a key committee.

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) has announced that he will be retiring at the end of 2019 for health reasons, according to The New York Times. And since he’s from Georgia, Republicans likely won’t struggle to fill his Senate seat with another member of the GOP.

But finding someone to take over Isakson’s role as chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee? That’s another story.

“I’d rather have a root canal”

According to Politico, Isakson said in August that he while he loves his job, his “health challenges” were “taking their toll” on himself, his family, and his 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,” the senator said in a statement.

Since then, the question of who will replace Isakson atop the Senate Ethics panel has hounded Republicans — but as The Hill reports, nobody really wants the job. Reporters have asked a number of GOP senators whether they would like to take over the position, and their answers were clear.

“Are you kidding? Are you kidding? I’d rather have a root canal.” Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) said. Laughing, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) shared a similar sentiment: “Uh, I’m going to say probably not… I don’t think that’s a sought-after position.”

Others, including Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), also said they wouldn’t be interested in the role. But why? According to reports, it all comes down to the job description.

Big shoes to fill

The Senate Ethics Committee is tasked with policing the behavior of senators and their staffers and conducting investigations to determine if anyone is in violation of either federal law or the Senate’s own rules. Accordingly, the chairmanship is a position of considerable responsibility that at times requires senators to investigate their own colleagues.

And although the role is usually a private one, it has been thrust into the spotlight recently amid Democrats’ ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

Nonetheless, one Republican senator will get the nod to fill the vacancy — and that decision will ultimately be in the hands of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Potential successors for Isakson include Sens. Jim Risch (R-ID) and Pat Roberts (R-KA), but an aide to McConnell has said that the conversation about who will replace Isakson has not yet begun.

For his part, Isakson’s message to his future replacement was one of encouragement.

“It’s an honor to do it,” he said, “and if asked, they ought to.”

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Robert Ayers

Robert Ayers is a staff writer for Conservative Institute. He has a bachelor’s degree from Quinnipiac University and a J.D. from the University of Connecticut.