Conservatives had mixed reactions to Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-S.C.) announcement that he’ll be leaving the upper chamber to lead the Heritage Foundation.
DeMint had been trying to hold the line in caucus against agreeing to any new taxes — including Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) compromise of raising additional revenue through closing loopholes and limiting deductions.
“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 said in a statement two days ago. “This isn’t rocket science.”
Yet lawmakers on the right also thought an appropriate champion was headed to the conservative think tank.
“Jim is not just a colleague; he is a friend and a mentor, and his departure will be a tremendous loss for the U.S. Senate and for the conservative movement. In eight years, he has personally led the effort to change the composition of the Senate for the better, and provided consistent and principled leadership in the fight for liberty and limited government,” said Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).
“He will be missed. I’m confident he will continue to play an important role in the ongoing public debate about the future of this country, and I wish him the best in his new position.”
Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said there’s “no better choice than Jim DeMint” to lead Heritage.
“It is disappointing to lose his strong voice in the Senate, but I look forward to his continued conservative leadership at the helm of The Heritage Foundation,” Jordan said. “The folks at Heritage are an indispensable ideas factory for conservatives in Congress. South Carolina’s loss is the country’s gain.”
Ed Feulner, the current president of The Heritage Foundation, served as the first executive director of the Republican Study Committee, the conservative caucus in the House, in 1973.
“Congratulations to the Heritage Foundation and to Jim DeMint on his selection,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). “I’ll miss Jim in the Senate, but he should be a strong and effective leader for Heritage.”
In a lengthy statement, DeMint said he’s leaving the Senate after eight years, but “not leaving the fight.”
He called establishment of his Senate Conservatives Fund PAC before 2010 elections one of the “most rewarding things I’ve done in the Senate.” The PAC endorsed Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Toomey. It also raised money for failed Senate candidates Sharron Angle in Nevada and Joe Miller in Alaska.
“Jim has been a source of inspiration for many of us who came to Washington to fight for our core conservative beliefs,” Lee said. “He has shown that getting things done doesn’t have to mean abandoning your principles. For too long, he was a movement unto himself in the Senate, keeping the torch lit for free-market principles and limited government. We are a better country for his service. Jim is a friend and mentor, and I plan to honor his time in the Senate by continuing the push for individual liberty and restoring constitutional government.”
“My constituents know that being a Senator was never going to be my career. I came to Congress as a citizen legislator and I’ve always been determined to leave it as citizen legislator,” DeMint said. “South Carolina has a deep bench of conservative leaders and I know Governor Haley will select a great replacement.”
No reaction yet from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who can rest easier about a conservative challenge to his seat as the GOP focuses on filling DeMint’s chair in 2014. So far no strong candidates have expressed interest in a definite primary challenge to Graham, including House members who could potentially replace DeMint.
Graham announced he would speak on the Senate floor at about 12:45 p.m. EST about DeMint’s retirement.
Possible names to run two years from now are Reps. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.). Another conservative favorite, particularly after the Fast and Furious hearings, could also see a surge in calls to run: Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C).
Mulvaney said the news of DeMint’s resignation came as a surprise.
“Senator DeMint has been a strong conservative voice, and he leaves big shoes to be filled,” he said. “I have faith Governor Haley will appoint someone with the character, leadership, and conservatism Senator DeMint has provided South Carolinians for the past eight years.”
“I first want to thank Senator DeMint for the tremendous work he has done on behalf of South Carolina and the nation. His commitment to conservative principles leaves a true legacy, and I have greatly enjoyed getting to know and work with him over the past two years,” Scott said in a brief statement. “Looking forward, Governor Haley will now appoint a new Senator, and I know she will make the right choice both for South Carolina and the nation.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who could face a challenge of his own in 2014, thanked DeMint for his service.
“Jim helped provide a powerful voice for conservative ideals in a town where those principles are too often hidden beneath business as usual,” McConnell said. “There is no question in my mind that he raised the profile of important issues like spending and debt and helped galvanize the American people against a big government agenda.”