DeMint to Leave U.S. Senate to Head Heritage Foundation

 

 

By Kathleen Hunter and James Rowley on December 06, 2012

Republican U.S. Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, a champion of fiscal conservatives in Congress who has clashed with his party’s leaders, said he will leave in the middle of his term to head the Heritage Foundation.

At the Republican-leaning policy group in Washington, DeMint will be “much freer to roar” than if he stays in the Senate, Republican political consultant Craig Shirley said today in a telephone interview. In the Nov. 6 election, Democrats widened their majority in the chamber by two seats.

“He will have a higher platform, greater authority in that position and thus more influence over the direction of the party and the conservative movement,” Shirley said.

The job change would help bolster DeMint’s personal finances. He reported a maximum net worth of $65,000 on his 2010 financial disclosure forms, the fourth-lowest of U.S. senators, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington. Edwin J. Feulner, who will step down as Heritage Foundation president in April, was paid more than $1 million in 2010, according to the group’s tax documents.

DeMint, whose Senate Conservatives Fund backed several Senate candidates in the 2010 and 2012 Republican primaries against hopefuls supported by the party’s establishment, is “one of a handful of people responsible” for the influx of Tea Party-backed lawmakers in 2010, said Senator Lindsey Graham, a fellow South Carolina Republican.

‘Good Legacy’

“And that’s a pretty damn good legacy,” Graham said. “Say what you like about the Tea Party, but without the Tea Party none of us would be talking about fiscal issues like we are today.”

DeMint, completing two years of his second six-year term, said in a statement that “I’m leaving the Senate now, but I’m not leaving the fight.” He added that the “conservative movement needs strong leadership in the battle of ideas.”

Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said DeMint, who will pass up a spot as the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, probably decided to leave the Senate in part because the Republicans didn’t gain a majority in the chamber in the Nov. 6 election.

“It would be the same thing for the next two years that he’s experienced before,” Bonjean said. “Clearly, he’s looking for new opportunities to express his conservative views.”

South Carolina-based Republican political consultant Wesley Donehue said DeMint’s decision “has everything to do with the inability of anyone to get everything done.”

DeMint’s announcement came two days after he criticized fellow Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s offer in budget talks to generate $800 billion in new tax revenue.

‘Real’ Reductions

“Speaker Boehner’s $800 billion tax hike will destroy American jobs and allow politicians in Washington to spend even more, while not reducing our $16 trillion debt by a single penny,” DeMint, 61, said in a Dec. 4 statement.

“Republicans must oppose tax increases and insist on real spending reductions that shrink the size of government and allow Americans to keep more of their hard-earned money,” according to DeMint’s statement.

First elected to the Senate in 2004, DeMint was re-elected two years ago. Earlier, he served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, a Republican, under state law will appoint a replacement until a special election is held in 2014 to fill the remainder of DeMint’s term.

“Our state’s loss is the Heritage Foundation’s gain,” she said in a statement.

DeMint’s departure from Congress follows an election in which the Senate’s Democratic caucus increased its majority by two seats to 55-45.

‘Uncompromising Service’

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, in a statement thanked DeMint “for his uncompromising service to South Carolina and to our country” in the Senate. McConnell said DeMint “helped provide a powerful voice for conservative ideals.”

Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican who came to the chamber the same year as DeMint, said DeMint has been “an anchor for conservative principles and his departure would leave “a big void”

Coburn and DeMint have often been thorns in the side of party leaders, objecting to moving Senate business forward until they received a vote or other demands were met. Coburn said he and DeMint learned together “how to use your rights in an appropriate way and have them respected.”

Tea Party

DeMint’s announcement coincides with efforts in the House to crack down on the anti-tax Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. Earlier this week, four Republicans who opposed Boehner on spending and budget issues were removed from their committee assignments.

Three of them were elected in 2010 with support of the Tea Party movement and their reassignments drew a protest from FreedomWorks, an umbrella group for the Tea Party movement.

DeMint’s departure is “dramatic news,” said Stu Rothenberg, publisher of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report. “He was the point person for the no-compromise conservative wing of the party.”

Whether the Tea Party is losing its clout in Congress “is absolutely the right thing to ask” at this point, Rothenberg said. “The question is whether Boehner has flexed his muscles and some conservatives now understand their place in the pecking order or whether we’re going to see an outright split in the party.”

DeMint, who has feuded with McConnell, “will certainly keep McConnell and the boys on their toes” from his new perch at Heritage, said Shirley, who is co-founder of Americans for a Better Country, a pro-Republican group formed in 2003 to help re-elect President George W. Bush the following year.

Ken Blackwell

Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a Republican, said in an interview that DeMint “is what Heritage was looking for — someone with standing in all three sectors of the conservative movement,” social policy, national security and economics. Blackwell, a member of the anti-tax Club for Growth’s board, said he had heard of the possible appointment for the past four to six weeks.

DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund helped elect three Republicans to the Senate on Nov. 6 — Nebraska’s Deb Fischer, Arizona’s Jeff Flake and Texas’s Ted Cruz. Other DeMint-backed candidates, including Republicans Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana, lost to Democrats after divisive primaries.

Libertarian Nucleus

“He’s changed the complexion of the Republican caucus,” said Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, one of five Republicans DeMint’s fund helped elect in 2010. “There really is a libertarian conservative nucleus among some members in the Republican caucus now.”

Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican whom DeMint backed in 2010, said the South Carolinian’s efforts “created the opportunity for principled but underfunded candidates to have a chance.”

Rubio, who is viewed as a potential 2016 presidential candidate, added, “Think about four years ago compared to today and the folks who are part of this body now as a result of Jim DeMint’s efforts and how different the Republican conference looks as a result of his work.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Kathleen Hunter in Washington at [email protected]; James Rowley in Washington at [email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jodi Schneider at [email protected]