UPDATE: Jan. 8, 2020: Republican leaders set up a potential conflict of interest in assigning freshman Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-GA, to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee. The panel oversees the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which regulates markets for derivatives that trade on exchanges run by Intercontinental Exchange. Loeffler's husband is chairman and chief executive of Intercontinental Exchange.
"I have worked hard to comply with both the letter and the spirit of the Senate’s ethics rules and will continue to do so every day," Loeffler said in a statement. "I will recuse myself if needed on a case by case basis."
- Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced Wednesday that Kelly Loeffler, the CEO of Bitcoin trading platform Bakkt, will fill the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Johnny Isakson, who is retiring, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
- The choice goes against the recommendation of President Donald Trump, who had lobbied Kemp to appoint four-term Rep. Doug Collins. Collins has fervently defended Trump during the House impeachment inquiry.
- Loeffler would become the second woman to fill a U.S. Senate seat in Georgia. The first, Rebecca Latimer Felton, served for one day in 1922 after Sen. Thomas Watson died two months before his term was to end. The choice was largely symbolic; Felton, 87, was among the most prominent women's suffrage advocates at the time.
Speculation around Loeffler's appointment may have stirred interest in Bakkt, which set a daily volume record Nov. 28, when $42.5 million in Bitcoin futures contracts were traded on the platform.
Bakkt announced in October that it was developing an app, set for launch early next year, that would let consumers use digital assets when purchasing goods from merchants. Bakkt is affiliated with Intercontinental Exchange, where Loeffler’s husband, Jeff Sprecher, serves as CEO. Sprecher is also chairman of the New York Stock Exchange.
Kemp and Trump met Nov. 24 to discuss the Senate pick, and the confab ended tensely and abruptly, The Wall Street Journal reported. Trump’s reservation with Loeffler, according to Bloomberg, is that she’s politically untested. However, the discord may stem from the fact that Trump publicly supported Kemp through a narrow election last fall over Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams.
Loeffler has donated millions of dollars to Republican candidates including former Sen. Saxby Chambliss, current Sen. David Perdue, and a super PAC to boost the candidacy of 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Bloomberg reported. But she has also occasionally donated to Democrats, which led some critics to label her a Republican in name only.
Loeffler would hold the Senate seat until a special election next year to finish the remaining two years of Isakson’s term. Isakson 74, is set to deliver a farewell address to the Senate on Tuesday. He announced in late August he would retire at the end of this year, citing a four-year struggle with Parkinson’s disease, a fall in July and surgery in August to remove a growth from his kidney.
Collins, Trump’s reported choice to fill Isakson’s seat, has raised the possibility that he would run against Loeffler in 2020 to fill the remainder of Isakson’s term. State Republicans fear a party divide would open the possibility that a Democrat could win the seat in 2020. To that end, the National Republican Senatorial Committee would throw its support behind Loeffler if she faces a GOP challenge next year, a source told Bloomberg. Regardless, the seat would be up for election again in 2022, along with Georgia’s other Senate seat.
Kemp’s supporters are rallying around his choice. Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols, who applied for the seat, praised the governor’s decision to pick a woman and business executive.
“Kelly, or any outstanding conservative woman, helps Republicans win back suburban women who seem to have left our party in the last cycle,” he said, according to the Journal-Constitution. “The governor knows what he’s doing.”
The board of the Georgia Young Republicans also voted unanimously to back Kemp in whoever he picks. “Unity sometimes means swallowing pride and ambition and doing what is best for the party,” said Andrew Abbott, a spokesman for the group.
But some Trump supporters remain vocal in their displeasure. “You are ignoring his request because you THINK you know better than @POTUS,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-FL, tweeted at Kemp, referring to the president. “If you substitute your judgment for the president’s, maybe you need a primary in 2022. Let’s see if you can win one w/o Trump.”