Who should get the appointment to replace retiring Senator Johnny Isakson, who has to leave for health reasons in December? A familiar face has tossed his hat into the ring for Georgia governor Brian Kemp’s consideration — Tom Price. The former Republican Study Group chair turned HHS secretary has confirmed his interest in the interim appointment, but Kemp might have to worry about Price’s baggage in an election:
Price, a former six-term Republican congressman, was appointed by President Donald Trump to serve as HHS secretary at the outset of his administration. He resigned from the cabinet in September 2017 after reporting from POLITICO about his use of private and government planes for travel.
Price held a suburban Atlanta seat in Congress, and his resignation to join the cabinet set off a special election that ultimately became the most expensive House race in history. Republicans narrowly held the seat in June 2017, but now-Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath flipped the seat last November.
Price joins several other high-profile Republicans to apply for the appointment, including Rep. Doug Collins and former Rep. Paul Broun. There’s a wide range of other potential candidates for Kemp’s pending appointment, and the biggest names include Rep. Tom Graves, state Attorney General Chris Carr and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan.
As a practicing physician, Price had built up a considerable reputation as a policy leader in health care and more broadly on conservative principles while in the House. He chaired the influential Republican Study Group for a few years before taking his dream job at HHS. That ended in disaster, as Politico briefly mentions, but the Atlanta Journal-Constitution offers a little more detail:
The Roswell orthopedic surgeon resigned from his Cabinet post in September 2017 after racking up at least $1 million in travel on private and military jets, a string of taxpayer-funded expenses that drew bipartisan condemnation and infuriated President Donald Trump.
That gig had been a dream job for Price, a third generation doctor who built his political career around health care policy. It lasted less than eight months, and it was rocky long before the expense scandal as he struggled to sell Trump’s core campaign pledge to scrap the Affordable Care Act.
If Price got the nod, he’d have three years before having to defend the seat in an election. By then, those issues might fade into the background, but Democrats would be certain to revive them at that time. That could be a problem in a state that’s clearly transitioning from red to kinda-sorta purple, where Kemp himself barely made it across the finish line.
The AJC wonders whether the Trump factor might play a role with this choice:
The Trump factor looms large with this one. The president likely won’t dictate who Kemp will pick, but he’ll have influence over the decision – especially given that one of his tweets could sink an appointee’s chances by emboldening a GOP opponent.
That strained relationship between Price and Trump looms large, particularly since the president is close with other potential contenders – most notably Collins, whom he retweeted just this week.
That might depend on just how well Trump plays in Georgia, too. He beat Hillary Clinton in the state, but only by five points and getting just 51% of the state. Mitt Romney got 53% of the vote in 2012. It might be best for Kemp not to go out of his way to antagonize Trump, but it’s not clear that appointing Price would do that. Kemp might need to worry more about Price’s baggage than Trump’s blessing in this case.
Price was and is a sharp thinker and a clearly intellectual conservative. If based on nothing more than his House track record, Price would make a fine choice for an interim appointment to the Senate. Given the rest of Price’s recent history, though, one has to think that Kemp might be looking more for safety than ideological purity.