Kelly Loeffler sworn in as new Georgia senator

By Marianne LeVine

Republican Kelly Loeffler was formally sworn in Monday as the newest senator from Georgia, replacing retired Sen. Johnny Isakson and becoming only the second woman to represent the state in the Senate.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp tapped Loeffler, a wealthy finance executive, to replace Isakson in December, despite questions about her conservative credentials and a push from President Donald Trump to instead nominate Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) — a strong ally on the Hill.

Loeffler’s appointment also initially spurred controversy among anti-abortion groups like Concerned Women for America, Susan B. Anthony’s List and March for Life, which cited Loeffler’s role as a member of the board of directors for Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony's List, described the hospital as "an abortionist training hub.”

Dannenfelser, however, has since walked back her criticism and told POLITICO that Loeffler's statement upon her appointment to the Senate "was pretty much a synopsis of what we look for in our candidates especially Senate candidates and especially female candidates.”

Kemp, who took months to decide on a replacement for Isakson, has defended Loeffler vehemently and described her as a “conservative businesswoman and political outsider.”

Isakson said in December that Loeffler’s appointment was “historic” and added that her “business experience and acumen will be an asset to Georgia and the Senate.”

Loeffler on Monday used a family Bible to take her oath.

Her swearing-in increases the number of female senators in the Senate to 26.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) welcomed Loeffler to the Senate.

“This is the most women to ever serve in the Senate, and it comes at a time when we need more diverse voices in politics, not fewer,” they said in a joint statement. “It took 27 years to go from two women to 26, and we should be able to reach equal representation in the Senate much more quickly.”

Loeffler could face a competitive race later this year, when she’s up in a special election in November. Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, has not ruled out running for Isakson’s seat.

The new Georgia senator was previously chief executive of Bakkt, a bitcoin trading platform, and is married to Jeffrey Sprecher, chairman of the New York Stock Exchange. She reportedly plans to spend $20 million of her own money in preparation for her race this year.

James Arkin and Burgess Everett contributed to this report.