December 6th, 2012
10:31 AM ET
2 years ago

Sen. Jim DeMint will step down from Senate

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.


Filed under: 2012 • Jim DeMint • South Carolina
soundoff (370 Responses)
  1. markfromdover

    Good riddance punk

    December 6, 2012 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  2. Chris

    I have to wonder if the Senator's campaign was assisted by the many foundations of the Koch Bros? Ahhh, politics. As an ex-Senator, I am sure he can influence votes even more with his new job. He can promise to help with campaigns and "help" universities educate students in the correct way to look at economics and "science"with a healthy dose of Libertarian views. He can help the Kochs decide which departments at which universities will best benefit from their spin on oil, fracking, capitalism and economics. They will be influenced by leaving out the end results or spinning it to their satisfaction with no chance of balance. He will make certain all of his senatorial cronies will vote the way the Kochs want them to vote... much like they do now.

    December 6, 2012 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  3. Pi Boson

    Of course the senate is a better place without him. The american people are better off wothout the cause-of-evil in the senate. Let him go to the caustic heritage environment.

    December 6, 2012 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  4. WisconsinTom

    Maybe he can find a job for Mitch McConnell cleaning toilets or windows, Its more then he does now in the Senate!

    December 6, 2012 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  5. Anon

    good riddance!!!!

    December 6, 2012 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  6. Lisa

    For everyone saying we won't miss him and good riddance... while I agree, do you really think that governor will appoint anyone less partisan?

    December 6, 2012 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  7. Darryl

    Good ridens, now Mc Connell, Canter, Ryan, Bachmann, and Gomert can hit the road too. The sooner they all get out the better the country is.

    December 6, 2012 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  8. v_mag

    "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.
    -–
    Of course, if he actually came to work as a senator, he might have gotten something done. If he actually had an idea of what the nation needs, he might have gotten something done. If he'd cared to find out what was needed.

    December 6, 2012 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  9. fernace

    DeMint said he's happy about leaving government fully stocked w/his T-Party protege's, because they all believe in freedom & less government! Funny, but the ideas floated by the T-"lunatics," this year, represented anything but freedom & less government! I'm all for fiscal conservatism, but they also believe in social conservatism & that it's their duty to intrude those ideas on the American public, in the form of laws! The T-Party is the thorn in Republicans side & we need to help them remove it w/our votes!!

    December 6, 2012 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  10. skinsfan66

    With Harry Reed controlling the Senate, DeMint probably can do more on the outside than inside. Reed is a road block to any meaningful change being pasted in Congress. He's Obama's puppet.

    December 6, 2012 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  11. txan

    Good riddance.

    December 6, 2012 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  12. Kevin

    Can we officially refer to the GOP as The Privatization Party or perhaps the Big Business Party? Maybe the Oligarchy is fun Party? Just tossing out new ideas.

    December 6, 2012 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  13. Hogan's Goat

    Don't worry, another talking ferret will be appointed to fill out his term. Nothing will change.

    December 6, 2012 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  14. Johan S

    THis is so that he can not be responsible for anything when he runs for president in 2016. He can choose to support or be against the DREAM act ex post facto. Hell he can claim he would have voted for tax increases if that's the current political climate of the time. He can claim that he would have voted for or against any war/military intervention or lack thereof.

    December 6, 2012 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  15. Arun

    Who cares, the guy sucked!! Doesn't matter because Nickey will put another moron in the senate!!!

    December 6, 2012 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  16. Johan S

    THis is so that he can not be responsible for anything when he runs for president in 2016. He can choose to support or be against the DREAM act ex post facto. He can claim he would have voted for tax increases if that's the current political climate of the time. He can claim that he would have voted for or against any war/military intervention or lack thereof. After tough decisions have already been made it's easy to claim what you would or wouldn't have done.

    December 6, 2012 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  17. mobobcat720@yahoo.com

    These red state congressmen and senators are subsides by the blue states and are against the very fabric that keeps them in the modern world! They sure have the poor and working people snooker.....they learn that from a first class snooker Grover Norquist and Koch bros.!

    December 6, 2012 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  18. Jim g

    It seems his term in office has coincided with the lack of a working government,. Is this a coincidence or not. His leaving could be a good thing.

    December 6, 2012 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  19. barbraS

    Senator, you are aware that the Heritage Foundation came up with the blueprint for Obamacare, right?

    December 6, 2012 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  20. mdn

    Don't let the door hit you on the way out Senator Demented.

    December 6, 2012 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  21. sqeptiq

    "Don't worry, another talking ferret will be appointed to fill out his term." So, what you're saying is that you expect Haley to UPGRADE with her selection?

    December 6, 2012 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  22. ohgran

    Just another politician using the American people as a stepping stone to get to more $ and power elsewhere. Down with super PACs!

    December 6, 2012 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  23. mdn

    And now the Senate has become a better place.

    December 6, 2012 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  24. Norm

    Looks like the Tea party is finally starting to get the hint...

    December 6, 2012 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  25. Hogan's Goat

    "Maybe South Carolina will elect someone a little less embarrassing & backwards-looking to represent their state." Why? How could someone who was progressive and respectable represent SC? Get another nasty, slick, fast-talking thief.

    December 6, 2012 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
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