President Donald Trump suggested Thursday that he’s working on a compromise between U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, two Georgia Republicans who are clashing over the same seat in a November election.
The president floated the idea that one of the two could leave the race during a speech at the White House celebrating the defeat of the Democratic-led attempt to remove him from office.
“I know, Kelly, that you’re going to end up liking him a lot,” Trump said of Collins, whom the president called an “unbelievable friend.”
He added: “Something’s going to happen that’s going to be very good. I don’t know; I haven’t figured it out yet.”
The president’s remarks triggered immediate talk in Georgia GOP circles that Collins could be in line for a judgeship or another appointment, or that Loeffler could be tapped for a premier position.
"We took it as the president preparing to offer Kelly Loeffler a job she's more suited for," Collins spokesman Dan McLagan said.
A Loeffler aide, Stephen Lawson, said Trump’s comments “speak for themselves” and that the senator was focused on supporting his agenda, “fighting for Georgians” and keeping her seat in the U.S. Senate.
Both Republicans are scrambling to lock up Trump’s support, eager to tout every retweet and every supportive remark from the president as a sign he might be taking sides in their race.
So far, the president has stayed publicly neutral — although Trump privately lobbied Gov. Brian Kemp to tap Collins for the seat on three separate occasions before he appointed Loeffler to succeed retired U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson.
Trump’s endorsement will be pivotal in the November vote, a special election that will feature multiple candidates from all parties on the same ballot. That means there are no primaries to hash out nominees, raising the prospect of a January runoff.
Republicans are under more pressure to unite after the Rev. Raphael Warnock entered the race last week with support from powerful Democrats, a day after Collins announced his candidacy.
Neither Loeffler nor Collins needs reminding of the power of Trump’s endorsement. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released in January pegged the president’s approval rating among Georgia Republicans at more than 90%.
Trump’s remarks came as he singled out Republican supporters for defending him against impeachment charges and claimed vindication for the U.S. Senate vote to acquit him on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of justice.
Every Republican but one - U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah - voted against convicting Trump, who described the process as “evil” and cast his supporters as high-minded champions of the Constitution.
Nodding to Loeffler, a wealthy financial executive who has never run for public office before, Trump said he appreciated her loyalty during her first few weeks in the Senate.
“She’s been so supportive, and she’s been downright nasty and mean about the unfairness to the president,” Trump said as Loeffler stood briefly, and gave a thumbs up, from the cramped East Room of the White House.
A few minutes later, Trump recognized the high-profile role that Collins played during the impeachment investigation as the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.
He called the four-term congressman from Gainesville a “man who has been an unbelievable friend of mine and spokesman -- and somebody that I really like.”
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