The C-SPAN camera on Monday evening may have been trained on Colorado U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, who was gushing about the Bureau of Land Management’s recent decision to move its staff to his home state, but the real action was happening less than 20 feet away.
Retiring U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson was huddled next to a sling-wearing Mitch McConnell on the otherwise empty Senate floor, the two whispering for almost 10 minutes about what the Georgian later let slip was a new legislative push.
The three-term Republican offered a characteristically cryptic response when asked by a reporter about what exactly that push entailed.
“I'm getting close to something I can tell you about, that I've been working on for some time,” Isakson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as he emerged from the chamber. “I'm not quite there yet."
Isakson’s first day on Capitol Hill since last month’s stunning resignation announcement was filled with the typical tributes that come with a popular, longtime lawmaker announcing his departure from the clubby upper chamber.
McConnell, the Senate majority leader and a longtime friend, praised Isakson’s work ethic in a speech on the floor. Colleagues lined up to shake his hand, kiss his cheek and wish him well as the body reconvened for its first vote after the five-week August recess.
Isakson, a GOP loyalist who has honed a reputation as a bipartisan dealmaker in his more than two decades on Capitol Hill, made clear he’s looking for one last breakthrough on a particularly sensitive policy issue before ending his 45-year political career.
“It will be newsworthy, I promise you that,” he said.
The chamber is unlikely to tackle immigration, the issue that’s long eluded Isakson, before he leaves on Dec. 31. Otherwise, senators are expected to focus on government funding legislation and executive branch nominations while Democrats press the GOP on gun control and Republicans aim to advance Trump’s new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico.
Then there are Isakson’s more parochial priorities, which include securing new funding for the Savannah harbor deepening and confirming two pending Georgia judicial nominees.
Isakson was in a chipper mood as he was wheeled onto the Senate floor yesterday evening, greeting the Senate’s elevator operator with a “hey darlin’,” and chuckling with colleagues new and old for more than an hour. There was Senate newcomer Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who threw her arm around the back of Isakson’s chair and planted a kiss on his forehead, and veteran lawmaker Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who was overheard exclaiming “I’m going to miss this!”
Isakson, who has Parkinson’s disease, said he was still adjusting to his new routine since breaking four ribs in July and undergoing surgery to remove cancerous cells on his kidney. He returned to the Senate floor several pounds lighter and gripping a walker.
Holding court at an antique desk at the front of the Senate chamber, Isakson soaked it all in.
"It's like coming to homecoming,” he said. “These are my friends."