The Loyal Republican | Johnny Isakson

(By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
By Shailagh Murray and Elizabeth Williamson
Sunday, July 22, 2007

F rom Tuesday evening until the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Johnny Isakson sat at his desk on the Senate floor and listened as Democrats and Republicans alike took turns making speeches during a rare all-night debate on Iraq. Across the street, antiwar groups had organized a candlelight vigil, a scene Isakson would occasionally survey from the Senate balcony during breaks for sandwiches and doughnuts.

"It was," he recalled, "all kinds of perfect theater."

But it was theater with a purpose. Many Republicans mocked the all-night session, but it transfixed the GOP senator from Georgia, who was looking for signs of progress in Iraq if he is to continue to support the president's war strategy.

"It's obvious everybody's getting more educated," Isakson said. "The speeches have gone from reading something somebody wrote to give you, to where some people are going down there and talking about, 'On my last visit,' or 'Remember when we said, now this has happened.' And in the end, that's a helpful thing."

When Isakson's turn came, at about 1 a.m., he rubbed his eyes and cleared his throat, and held in his hand a copy of a Georgia newspaper article. It included an interview with Lucy Harris, mother of Noah Harris, a University of Georgia cheerleader who signed up for ROTC after Sept. 11, 2001. He died in Iraq two years ago.

"We're talking about boots on the ground, real people," Lucy Harris said in the article, her words recounted on the floor by Isakson. "When I think about my son, who could have done anything with his life . . . I just don't want it to be in vain."

Isakson entered the article into the record, lingered for a little while longer, then left the floor and walked home in the darkness.

"Last week, you listened to a huge debate over where we ought to go based on what a bunch of politicians think, what their politics are," Isakson said later.

Isakson the politician remains a Republican to the core, but how long will he remain a Bush loyalist on Iraq? That will be determined in mid-September, when Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker deliver their report to Congress. At that point, Isakson predicted, "everybody is prepared to change course."

"There are some people who just want to quit and leave, and that is unacceptable. However, the way we're deployed, how we're deployed, how many are deployed and who's doing what will move and will change."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company