As published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
By Daniel Malloy
WASHINGTON — Georgia Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson officially took the reins of the Senate Veterans Affairs and Ethics committees Wednesday, making him the upper chamber’s only double chairman.
Members of both committees named Isakson as their chairman, and the full Senate Republican conference is scheduled to ratify those choices Thursday, though the moves were long-telegraphed as the GOP took control of the Senate.
Isakson had breakfast Wednesday with VA Secretary Robert McDonald, House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and each panel’s top Democrats to discuss the congressional agenda on veterans.
“We’re going to have aggressive oversight — very visible oversight — by the veterans committee in both the House and Senate,” Isakson said. “We don’t want hearings that are just regurgitation of statistical reports. We’re going to have site visits and follow through on the implementation of the Veterans Choice Act,” the bipartisan 2014 law passed in response to a series of VA scandals.
Georgia’s senior senator — who is running for a third term in 2016 — is in a unique position with two chairmanships.
Isakson served as vice chairman of the Ethics Committee in the previous Congress, while his ascent into the top spot on the veterans panel was enabled by U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., taking over the Intelligence Committee.
Senators typically can be chairman of only one committee, but Ethics is a special “select” committee, giving Majority Leader Mitch McConnell the leeway to allow Isakson to run both.
While Isakson joked that “it does limit conversation around me sometimes,” he enjoys the responsibilities on the Ethics Committee. Though it does its toughest work in secret, investigating ethics complaints against senators and staff, Isakson puts a sunny spin on the role.
“We tell everybody — Republican and Democrat — we feel like our job at the committee is to keep them from getting in trouble, to be an information resource” on ethics rules, he said.