Washington (CNN) – Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina will resign from his Senate seat as of Dec. 31 to take over as head of the Heritage Foundation, his office announced Thursday.
"I honestly believe that I can do a lot more on the outside than I can on the inside," DeMint told reporters at Heritage Thursday.
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On CNN's "The Situation Room," he explained further: "After this last election it's apparent that we need to do more as conservatives to convince Americans that our ideas and our policies are going to make their lives better. The Heritage Foundation is the premier think tank research organization - the premier idea group for the conservative movement. This will give me the opportunity to help take our case to the American people and to translate our policies into real ideas."
According to a source close to the senator, DeMint was formally offered the job and accepted it on Wednesday. He told his staff Thursday morning and called Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley around 9 a.m. ET to tell them the news.
Elected in 2004, DeMint was re-elected in 2010. His term was not up until 2016. Haley, a Republican, will name a successor. A special election will be held in 2014 for the last two years of his term.
DeMint, 61, had always planned on leaving after two terms, according to a DeMint adviser.
"This move puts him in a powerful position to further advance fiscal conservative principles," the adviser said.
DeMint, a kingmaker among conservatives, is highly influential and well-beloved in the tea party movement, and has been a thorn in the side of establishment Republicans. In 2009, he was the first to endorse Marco Rubio of Florida in his 2010 Senate bid, at the time that the National Republican Senatorial Committee was backing Florida Gov. Charlie Christ.
He was also a powerhouse in the 2012 election. He held a highly-sought endorsement in congressional races and used his super PAC, Senate Conservatives Fund, to back tea party favorites in GOP primaries. Among his picks were successful Senate newcomers Ted Cruz of Texas, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Debbie Fischer of Nebraska.
"I know I'm leaving the Senate better than I found it with some real leaders," DeMint said Thursday, referring to his role in "stocking the Senate with solid conservatives."
The South Carolina senator also held a strong voice in the Republican presidential primary. In September 2011, he hosted a forum in the Palmetto State for five of the presidential candidates, including Mitt Romney.
However, ahead of the state's first-in-the-South primary in January, DeMint announced he would not be supporting a candidate. "I do not have a favorite in this race and I will not endorse a candidate."
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich ultimately won the South Carolina contest.
According to a statement from Heritage, DeMint will start as president-elect in early January, then take over in April, replacing the current president, Edwin Feulner.
"Jim DeMint has shown that principled conservatism remains a winning political philosophy. His passion for rigorous research, his dedication to the principles of our nation's founding, and his ability to translate policy ideas into action make him an ideal choice to lead Heritage to even greater success," Thomas Saunders, the group's chairman of the board, said in a statement.
Addressing his new staff on Thursday, DeMint told them he felt like he had "walked into the front door" of his own house and cited Heritage policy papers that first motivated him to run for Congress.
"The ugly duckling looked and saw his reflection and found he was not an ugly duckling at all, but a beautiful swan. Not that I'm a beautiful swan, but I looked at all these papers and realized I was a conservative," he said.
In the recent fiscal cliff debate, DeMint has been a staunch opponent of Democratic-backed proposals to raise tax rates as part of a deficit-reduction solution. He even criticized his own party for ceding ground in the debate by agreeing to raise revenue through tax reform.
"This federal government doesn't need more money," he said, tweaking House Speaker John Boehner's counter-offer this week, which includes $800 billion in new revenue.
In his comments at Heritage, DeMint said "a lot of his role" in the Senate has been "stopping bad things and saying no to bad things."
He added that one of the Republican Party's biggest mistakes in recent years has been "trying to make Obama the issue without sharing with America bold, new ideas."
READ MORE: Who will replace DeMint in the Senate?
All eyes are now on Haley, as the South Carolina governor decides whom to name to fill DeMint's seat. The senator has made it known in Columbia that he wants Rep. Tim Scott to be appointed to his seat, sources tell CNN. If named, he would be the Senate's only African-American member.
But DeMint’s official staff in Washington is pushing back hard against that suggestion, in part because DeMint can’t be seen as meddling in a process controlled by the governor.
Thanking DeMint for his service, Scott said in a statement "Governor Haley will now appoint a new Senator, and I know she will make the right choice both for South Carolina and the nation.”
Rep. Mick Mulvaney is another name being floated. The congressman also said he has "faith Gov. Haley will appoint someone with the character, leadership, and conservatism Senator DeMint has provided South Carolinians for the past eight years."
In a statement Thursday, Haley applauded DeMint's service in the upper chamber, saying he has served "the national conservative movement exceptionally well."
"His voice for freedom and limited government has been a true inspiration," she continued. "On a personal level, I value Jim's leadership and friendship. Our state's loss is the Heritage Foundation's gain. I wish Jim and Heritage all the best in continuing our shared commitment to America's greatness."
Senate Minority Leader McConnell also released a statement, thanking DeMint "for his uncompromising service to South Carolina and our country in the United States Senate."
"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.
DeMint's departure means there will now be 34 (up from 33) Senate seats up for grabs in the 2014 midterm elections, with the Democrats defending 20 of those seats and the GOP defending 14 (up from 13).
South Carolina will be a busy place that year, as Palmetto State voters will cast ballots for two Senate seats: Along with the special election, senior Sen. Lindsey Graham will be up for re-election. A gubernatorial race will also take place.
– CNN's Ted Barrett, Peter Hamby, Paul Courson, Dana Bash, Deirdre Walsh, Dana Davidsen, Shawna Shepherd, and Martina Stewart contributed to this report.
And, after only 5 years of service, our representatives get a pension! That makes me mad.
The Heritage Foundation was one of the early adopters of personal responsibility in Health Care. Read: Mandate. But since our awesome President adopted it, suddenly no Republican was for it. Heritage Foundation well respected? NOT HERE. Bunch of whiney losers trying to force policy through big piles of money. Did you not hear the American people say NO TO PARTISANSHIP? Republicans are going down in 2014!
Did you know that members of Congress and the Senate get a retirement pension after only 5 years? How do you feel about that? I don't like it one little bit.
Another T-Party quitter. Just like Sarah Palin.
US Senator salary – $175,000 versus Heritage President salary – $1.03 million
Not a bad career move for a diminished back bencher
He didn't mind spending the money but now he does not want to pay the bill, also he is going to leave it to someone else to do the dirty work to clean up his and the GOP's mess. Yes, he sure is a true American Tea Party Patriot.
And, he can now collect a retirement because he's over 62 and because he worked for at least five years as a representative.
Hahaha..."think tank"? MAybe....if by "think tank" you mean "ideological circle-jerk."
The usual gang of idiots is now short one idiot. DeMint represents the worst in Congress and I am glad to see him go.
Another do-nothing politician moves on to greener pastures – so what else is new?
Adios,..take Cantor, Ryan and Bachmann with you.
Chickens41t is quitting when the going gets tough.
The American people won't miss you tea beg.
I think it is very good news for real Republicans who are side stepped by the rightist and extremists and have spoiled the name of the party and diluted the soul of Republic party by advancing their own conservative, religious, anti-social and anti-economical agendas rather than the NATIONAL INTEREST. They have failed in their goal and it is time to vacate the platform. It would be better, he should take with him his several Tea-Party goons and speaker, majority leader in Congress and several who are the responsible for the debacle of the party in the last election and are ready to wipe out the entire party in coming years continuing agitating with the mainstream hiding their heads in to deep sand.
I'm just glad he's out of the Senate where an EMPTY-HEADED extremist doesn't belong. We don't have to listen to him at the Heritage Foundation. The Tea Party takes over the Heritage Foundation! Wow...that "think tank" is STUPID.
I will not miss him.
if you guys rather prefer a one-party system, then why don't you ask the folks from Cuba, Eritea, North Korea, Laos, Sarwai Arab Democratic Republic, Turkmenistan and Vietnam and ask how they're doing?
I'd go for the "CommonSenseIsTooDamnScarce" party running everything.
nice. just shows that the real power in washington is with the lobbyists, not the actual elected representatives.
The Heritage Foundation is an American conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C. Heritage's stated mission is to "formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense".
Unlimited SUPER PAC funds available.
Rudy NYC – Nikki Haley thinks very highly of herself. If she can she will appoint herself instead of hanging around to be knocked out of office when she runs for reelection. Her incompetence, her lack of leadership skills and ethical lapses rank her in the lowest tier of SC governors. Since she is all about power and money for herself and her husband and not her state she sounds much like her mentor Palin. We'd be better off without her here but neither she or either of her probable choices would be an improvement over Demint-ed in the Senate (just more fodder for the late-night comics). She wants to be a VP running mate to whoever wins the GOP nomination in 2016. That's the next goal now. Nothing else.
"I honestly believe that I can do a lot more on the outside than I can on the inside,"....and make way more money as lobbyist as well
Money talks, DeMint walks.
The senate is looking better already.
In other words, Jim realized he would make even more money working for the Heritage Foundation then he would as a congressional parasite. I guess fleecing taxpayers doesn't pay what it used to.