Outgoing Sen. Johnny Isakson gave a farewell speech on Tuesday in which he urged his colleagues to work together across the aisle and act from the heart to produce results, receiving a rare standing ovation.
“We may be called a liberal, we may be called a RINO, we may be called whatever it is – let’s solve the problem and then see what happens,” the Georgia Republican said. “Most people who call people names and point fingers are people that don’t have a solution themselves, they just want to make damn sure you don’t solve it.”
“Then bipartisanship will become a way you accomplish things, a way you live, a state of being,” Isakson continued. “It will be the end of a bad time and the beginning of a new one and I want to live long enough to see both.”
Isakson, the chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, announced in August that he would resign at the end of this year following a fall in July that left him with four fractured ribs. His Parkinson’s disease was evident as he addressed his fellow senators, another reminder of why he was leaving early after 15 years in the Senate.
The senior Georgia senator praised Georgia Democratic Rep. John Lewis as an inspiration for his courageous civil rights leadership.
“John Lewis is one of my real heroes in life, because I watched what he went through to help us see the light in the South,” Isakson said. He said that the two of them together represent “how things can really change, if people want them to change and they are willing to do the things that let them change.”
After observing both parties try to block each other and fail to deliver results, Isakson said that he decided when he was about 60 that “I’m not going to spend the rest of my life down here arguing about silly, stupid things.”
He then decided to “try to find every way I could to be bipartisan, which meant to me that I did what I thought was right.”
“When you are fortunate enough to see a John Lewis from Georgia or someone like that step out of his comfort zone, do what he thinks is right, and somebody tells you, ‘he’s wrong, don’t do that’ – judge your conscience and your heart, not some TV commentators or somebody who is loaded with hate,” Isakson said.
Isakson praised Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a kentucky Republican, as “the greatest leader I’ve ever worked for in my 45 years in public life.” He said that he was “so proud” that Mike Pence, who was in attendance, served as vice president, and added that when he tells his grandchildren they were at the speech with Pence, “you will be president by then, Mr. Vice President.”
Isakson did not mention President Donald Trump during his speech. But he did lament how some politicians “get awful close” to the issue of hate, like “they did in Charlottesville” – an apparent reference to the 2017 clash between white supremacists and counterprotesters that Trump said saw “blame on both sides.”
Senators held a bipartisan lunch for Isakson on Tuesday instead of the regular party lunches, as Isakson was known to hold regular bipartisan lunches in an effort to improve relationships across the aisle. McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, and others spoke about Isakson afterward.
Isakson referenced the lunch, saying that the members “stole all my material” and “all my good jokes.” But he did get a few quips into his remarks.
“The best way to get somebody to do something for you, is when you had done something for them the day before,” he said of bipartisan efforts.
“It’s a quid pro quo – oh, that’s a bad word,” he added, to hearty laughter in the chamber. “I’m glad I remembered that joke.”