AJC Interview: Loeffler vows to fight ‘impeachment sham’ in Senate

Kelly Loeffler, set to become Georgia’s next U.S. senator in January, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that when she enters office she will focus on “carrying out the president’s agenda” and helping “hardworking families.” (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Kelly Loeffler, set to become Georgia’s next U.S. senator in January, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that when she enters office she will focus on “carrying out the president’s agenda” and helping “hardworking families.” (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

When Kelly Loeffler takes office next month, she will instantly be vaulted into a historic impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. The political newcomer left little nuance about her approach to what will likely be her first major vote as a U.S. senator.

"I'm an outsider to Washington. I'm not even sure where my office is going to be. But I can tell you with certainty my first vote is an easy one," Loeffler said Tuesday on the eve of a House vote that is set to result in Trump's impeachment.

“This impeachment sham is an attack on what was a free and fair election, and I will stand strongly against impeachment and vote no,” she said. “This is something that’s been going on for years, and it’s time to end it and get back to work for Georgians.”

Loeffler's remarks came in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, her first since she was appointed to the office earlier this month by Gov. Brian Kemp.

A wealthy financial executive with rural roots, Loeffler addressed how she intends to appeal to conservatives who know little about her policies, connect with voters who have fled the Georgia GOP and wade through potential ethical issues that a watchdog advocate compared to a "minefield."

Her interview came roughly two weeks after Kemp formally introduced her as his pick for the seat held by U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who is stepping down at year’s end because of health issues.

After days of quiet meetings and phone calls with grassroots conservatives and elected officials, many of whom had never met her, Loeffler said she was planning to hit the campaign trail before New Year’s Day so voters “can hear about my background and my interests.”

More: Kemp’s big gamble to expand the Georgia GOP

More: Inside how Kemp picked Loeffler for the U.S. Senate

The timing is tight. Early next month, Loeffler will be sworn into office and thrown into a debate about whether Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate the family of former Vice President Joe Biden, one of his top 2020 rivals.

12/04/2019 -- Atlanta, Georgia -- Lawmakers applaud as newly appointed U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler (second from right) is introduced by Georgia Gov. Bria Kemp (left) during a press conference in the Governor's office at the Georgia State Capitol Building, Wednesday, December 4, 2019. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Kelly Loeffler to the U.S. Senate to take the place of U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, who is stepping down for health reasons. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

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Credit: Alyssa Pointer

House Democrats in the nation's most politically competitive races, including U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath of Marietta, have each publicly supported impeachment charges. That means Wednesday's vote in the U.S. House is expected to fall strictly upon party lines.

Loeffler wants her stance on impeachment to make an impression on voters who will decide her electoral fate in November — particularly conservatives who have questioned the degree of her support for Trump and had called for U.S. Rep. Doug Collins or another ally of the president's to be appointed.

“I know impeachment will take up a lot of news coverage, but it doesn’t affect everyday lives,” Loeffler said. “We need to get past the impeachment sham and see what we can do to help Georgians.”

No ‘life of privilege’

Loeffler will immediately be confronted with a tangle of potential ethical decisions.

Her husband, Jeff Sprecher, runs the Intercontinental Exchange, an Atlanta-based financial trading platform that owns the New York Stock Exchange. She served as a senior executive with the firm before becoming the head of a subsidiary called Bakkt, a digital currency company.

Loeffler said she plans to step down from Bakkt but has not outlined whether she would recuse herself from votes that could influence her husband's industry or whether she would put her fortune into a blind trust designed to avoid conflicts of interest.

“With regard to any ethics, financial reporting or other requirements, I’m going to do it right,” she said. “I made a decision to serve knowing that these transparency requirements would apply from day one, and I’m spending a lot of time addressing these and taking it very seriously.”

Kemp picked Loeffler from among more than 500 applicants, including several high-profile GOP figures with more political experience, enticed by her private-sector background and a chance to help Georgia Republicans win back more female voters. She quickly pledged to spend at least $20 million of her own money to bolster her campaign.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp greets President Donald Trump as he arrives at Dobbins AFB on Friday, November 8, 2019, in Marietta.   Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

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Credit: Curtis Compton

Loeffler said she'll introduce herself to voters by talking about her life before she became a powerful executive — her upbringing on a soybean farm in rural Illinois and her uncertain climb up the corporate ladder.

“I’ve been blessed to have success in recent years, but I spent my 20s and 30s moving from city to city trying to build my career,” she said. “I did not grow up in a life of privilege.

“I struggled with rent, car payments and bills until my mid-30s. I know what it’s like to worry. I know what it’s like to not know how to make ends meet. That’s informed my decision to serve Georgians, to make sure these voices are heard.”

Two ‘outsiders’ in D.C.

Her selection drew heat from some conservative activists who cast her as an unproven candidate at the trickiest of times, with Democrats promising to devote unprecedented resources to defeat Loeffler and U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who is also on the ballot in 2020.

More: Loeffler to face ‘minefield’ of potential ethical issues in Senate

More: Why Kemp picked Loeffler for Senate gig over Trump's objections

At least one well-financed Democrat is also in the race: Matt Lieberman, an Atlanta educator and entrepreneur who is the son of former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. But other Democrats with backing from party leadership are likely to enter the contest next year.

At the same time, Loeffler may have to fend off a threat from a conservative challenger. Collins has said he's "strongly" considering a run for the Senate, and Trump and several other top Republicans intensely lobbied Kemp to appoint the four-term congressman to the seat.

Loeffler and Kemp quietly traveled to Washington shortly before she was appointed to try to woo Trump, and the meeting was said to have ended with the president still insistent on Collins. She said she used the meeting to "share my story and my commitment" to Trump — and left it committed to winning him over.

“He was an outsider coming to Washington, very much like I’m an outsider coming in,” Loeffler said. “I want to bring my experience as someone who hasn’t wanted to come to Washington all my life. I know I’ll have to work to earn his support, and that’s what I plan to do.”

Part of that strategy, she said, involves countering conservative critics who paint her as too moderate. Among their concerns is her record of donating to Democratic candidates, who collected roughly 3% of her donations in an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Loeffler said the donations to Democrats were part of an effort to build a “relationship that relates to the business” she and her husband run. She added that her overall record of giving shows there’s “no question that I’m a strong conservative Republican.”

She said she’ll focus on “carrying out the president’s agenda and supporting Governor Kemp.” Loeffler invoked a favorite Kemp phrase — “help hardworking families” — to describe her goals for the first months in office.

“People will see that quickly. I’m here to make a difference for our state,” Loeffler said, adding: “I know this is going to be hard work, but it’s going to be very rewarding. It’s an honor I know I have to earn.”