Trump praises 2 Republicans seeking Georgia Senate seat

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Election 2020 Senate Georgia

President Donald Trump speaks in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, in Washington. Both Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Rep. Doug Collins were in the audience as Trump spoke for more than an hour at the White House, where the 2020 election rivals were among a number of GOP lawmakers the president thanked by name for supporting him throughout his impeachment that ended with his acquittal Wednesday by the Senate. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In his post-impeachment victory lap, President Donald Trump had high praise Thursday for Georgia's newest senator as well as a fellow Republican Congress member challenging her in an election where Trump's endorsement could give either a potent advantage.

Both Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Rep. Doug Collins were in the audience as Trump spoke for more than an hour at the White House. The 2020 election rivals were among many GOP lawmakers the president thanked by name for supporting him throughout the impeachment saga that ended with Trump's acquittal Wednesday by the Senate.

“A young woman who I didn’t know at all, but she’s been so supportive," Trump said of Loeffler, "And I’ve had great support from other people in that state. And she’s been so supportive, and she’s been downright nasty and mean about the unfairness to the president. And Kelly Loeffler I appreciate very much.”

A few minutes later, the president had similar plaudits for Collins, who last week announced plans to challenge Loeffler in the Nov. 3 special election for the Senate seat. Trump even hinted at the rivalry between the two.

“A man who has been an unbelievable friend of mine and spokesman and somebody that I really like," Trump said. “And I know, Kelly, you’re going to end up liking him a lot. Something’s going to happen that’s going to be very good. I don’t know. I haven’t figured it out yet. But Doug Collins, you have been so great.”

It wasn't clear what Trump meant by his comment that “something's going to happen.” Trump did not elaborate any further.

Loeffler was sworn in at the beginning of the year to the seat vacated by retiring Sen. Johnny Isakson. The wealthy businesswoman and political newcomer was appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp despite a preference by Trump and his conservative allies for Collins, a Trump loyalist and top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.

Even before she was sworn in, Loeffler said she planned to vote against removing the president — a pledge she upheld Wednesday. Collins, an attorney, was a member of the president’s impeachment defense team during the Senate trial.

Loeffler now must defend the seat in a free-for-all November election for the remaining two years of Isakson’s term. Collins' entrance into the race exposes divisions among Georgia Republicans at a time when Democrats increasingly believe the state is winnable.

It also increases the odds that both Collins and Loeffler will look to Trump to play kingmaker and seek his endorsement. A single tweet from Trump is credited with helping Kemp win a competitive GOP primary runoff in 2018.