What Others Are Saying

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Cherokee Tribune & Ledger-News: McKee: Isakson's bipartisan leadership shows how to get things done

As published in the Cherokee Tribune & Ledger-News

Republican-led U.S. Senate and House committees on veterans’ affairs have won favorable recognition from the New York Times, a fully merited although unlikely event in this time of unrelenting assaults by the Times and other liberal media on the Trump administration in particular and Republicans in general.

“Magnanimous hearings. Bipartisan votes. Substantial legislation on its way to becoming law,” the article begins. While “the rest of Congress fights over the health care overhaul and looming budget deadlines,” the veterans’ affairs committees “are quietly moving forward with an ambitious, long-sought and largely bipartisan agenda that has the potential to significantly reshape the way the nation cares for its 21 million veterans. It could also provide President Trump with a set of policy victories he badly needs.”

The list of accomplishments includes unanimous Senate confirmation of VA Secretary David Shulkin, the lone Trump Cabinet nominee to sail through unopposed; congressional enactment of temporary funding extension of the Veterans Choice Program; and legislation removing obstacles to firing employees for misconduct, among other reforms; plus pending legislation to speed up appeals of disability benefits.

Historically, bipartisanship has prevailed on taking care of veterans, but there are still differences, with future tests for cooperation ahead. Yet “as lawmakers talk about how they will do it, it almost sounds like an idealized version of how Washington works,” the article says. And it’s no surprise who is at the center of this idealized version in the Senate.

It is Georgia’s senior Sen. Johnny Isakson, “the courtly Republican chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs,” as he is described by the Times. He explains his policy, which can be defined as gentlemanly:

“We don’t want to have a fight for fights’ sake. We want to find solutions. So when we have opposition to issue from a member, we try to bring them into the fold and sometimes maybe address the concern they have.”

That attitude is the crux of the story, pinpointing the skills of the chairman, as well as the political realities facing the ranking Democrat, thusly: “Mr. Isakson, 72, a former real estate executive, is among an increasingly rare breed of deal makers in the upper chamber. Those watching the 15-person committee say he has gone a long way to set the tone for its work. He has found a willing partner in Jon Tester of Montana, the committee’s top Democrat, who along with being a political moderate is up for re-election next year in a rural state that voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Trump.”

Tester gives this assessment: “With Johnny at the helm, we’ve been able to get a lot of stuff done. Do Johnny and I agree on everything? No, we don’t, but we believe we can communicate and move forward.”

Folks here in Georgia know well Isakson’s ability for working with people on the opposing side of politics. He made a reputation for reaching across the aisle as a state legislator for 17 years and as a member of the U.S. House for six years as well as two years chairing the state Board of Education. One of his friends of longstanding is former Gov. Roy Barnes, arguably Georgia’s best-known Democrat, who endorsed Isakson for re-election last year, telling the Marietta Daily Journal: “What I admire most about him is it doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican. If he thinks you’re right, he’s going to try to help you. That’s a great trait to have in this day of divided politics where if you even mention somebody from across the aisle, you’re condemned.”

Isakson has said his approach is “to try and find ways forward and bring people together.” It’s a formula for success — if only enough members of Congress would adopt it.