December 6th, 2012
10:31 AM ET
10 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. Marc

    Hopefully Nikki Haley appoints someone who is qualified and not a partisan tea party junkie.

    December 6, 2012 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  2. Incredulous45

    hopefully a moderate will replace him.

    December 6, 2012 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  3. SenorPlaid

    Oh, how will our country ever survive without the tireless hours that DeMint has put in to his civic service to make our lives better? I mean all that landmark legislation, such as ... umm ... waitaminnit here, I'll think of something ...

    December 6, 2012 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  4. Joshua Ludd

    He could do more on the outside? Try he could make more money on the outside... either that or when they don't get their way because people don't vote for them Republicans jump ship and try to govern without being in government.

    December 6, 2012 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  5. Clinker

    That is the problem with DeMint and others of his ilk. They consistently think of it as a "fight" or a "battle" instead of engaging in the negotiation and fraternity that ultimately confer upon congressmen the title of statesmen. These extremists will never be remembered as builders of anything. Just whiney opportunists.

    December 6, 2012 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  6. Brent

    Translation: "We look bad...the American people are disgusted with us. Things are about to get even worse. The Republican Party is a sinking ship, and I'm bailing out while there's still time. I'll drive back by here in a little while ( gauge my presidential prospects for 2016) to see how you guys are doing.

    December 6, 2012 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  7. Rudy NYC

    Sen. DeMint could be the poster child of everything that has gone awry with the Republican party over the past few decades. Republicans have lost site of the reason for public service. The most outspoken of them come across as people who want to rule, and set the rules for all to follow. That ain't freedom.

    Elected officials should approach their jobs from a custodial perspective. Just as justices should not legislate from the bench, legislators should not judge from the chamber floors.

    December 6, 2012 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  8. Dennis

    My parents taught me to finish what I started. Seems like the title "Senator" would be sufficient. We continue to call Senators who have been defeated or who do not run again by their title. Not sure he deserves it.

    December 6, 2012 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  9. Daverelentless

    We are most thankful for the news. He'll be perfect with Heritage. They don't believe the 20th Century happened, either.

    December 6, 2012 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  10. Al

    Demint was worthless to begin with. Now he can head up America's closest rival to The Taliban.

    December 6, 2012 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  11. Lynda/Minnesota

    "Another Tea Party elected official who quits"

    Oh yeah. He's "pulling a Palin". One can only hope it's contagious and goes viral long enough to get these fools out of the GOP, out of Congress, and out of our lives.

    December 6, 2012 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  12. BSS

    Hard to resist a base salary of $1,025,000 which is what the current president Edwin Feulner was paid in 2010.

    December 6, 2012 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  13. Jack

    A.) He's not getting his way. B.) He'll make more money on the outside. The spoiled brat obstructionist is sick and tired of making a Senator's salary and finding himself out of touch with America so he's going to work to push an obstructionist agenda on the outside and get paid tons of money. Hasta la vista, baby.

    December 6, 2012 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  14. dzerres

    He's going for the money. No principles, no patriotism, no "service" to the country – its just about the money. If Haley were really smart she'd appoint herself to the seat. She doesn't really have a future as governor, has ticked off pretty much every Republican leader in the state and would probably not win another Republican primary for Governorship. She might be able to con a wider voter demographic into re-electing her to the Senate seat but only if she plays "nice" with everyone.

    December 6, 2012 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  15. ForGoodOfAll

    nobody will miss you...

    December 6, 2012 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  16. SkepticalOne

    Good riddance to bad rubbish.

    December 6, 2012 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  17. The Other Dale

    Guess he wanted to stick around long enough to take away freedom from the disabled first before leaving.

    December 6, 2012 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  18. Tobey

    all i hear from you Dems is "kick the GOP out!" "The GOP will not win another presidential election!", etc., etc. Do you idiots want America to become a one-party state? apparently so.

    December 6, 2012 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  19. M Beusch

    Rick McDaniel - to call President Obama a dictator is stunningly hypocritical coming from someone who probably supported George W. Bush with his wiretaps without warrants, imprisoning of terror suspects without due process and other un-American activities. You not liking President Obama does not make him a dictator. President Obama's program doesn't not equate with dictatorship - it equates with Eisenhower Republicanism. You know, when the top earners paid their fair share, organized labor was allowed to look after the workers instead of being made the scapegoats for corporate mismanagement, and the middle class thrived? Funny how conservatives always look with teary eyes to those simpler, happier times during the 1950's, but balk at measures designed to replicate those conditions.

    December 6, 2012 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  20. rick1948

    Typical Republican – just like Palin – running from his elected responsibilities to make a fast buck.

    December 6, 2012 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  21. j

    These Tea Party members just don't know how to govern. They feel entitled to everything, and they take their marbles and go home when they don't get their way.

    I believe Ex-Senator Demint will make a better talking head than Sarah Palin, another famous GOP quitter. However, he may not get the access to FOX news he is expecting.

    Or what do i know? The greedy portion of American's wealthy class might be grooming Demint for a 2016 presidential run for a new radically capitalistic third party. Those thinkers at Heritage might have it all planned, and ALEX may have all the legislation they need already in place to make an end run around us all and end democracy as we know it.

    December 6, 2012 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  22. Tom

    It is worth noting that the Heritage Foundation has not elected Jim Demint to be the President, so he can not be the President-Elect. He could be an advisor President in waiting or something of the sort, but using the term "-elect" isn't appropriate.

    December 6, 2012 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  23. JohnRJohnson

    The Heritage Foundation "Think Tank"? Really? Isn't that the Tank that believes mankind walked alongside living dinosaurs? DeMint would not have done this unless he has a clone ready to take his spot in the Senate.

    December 6, 2012 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  24. ChiTownArt

    From bad to worse.

    December 6, 2012 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  25. Tobey

    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?

    December 6, 2012 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
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