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. Hogan's Goat

    "well-respected conservative think tank" The "brains" of the GOP are here, but certainly not the heart. This is where they think up Birther nonsense and get Trump to run for President. Look for a surge to the extreme right soon as the GOP continues to disintegrate.

    December 6, 2012 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  2. TG

    No doubt we can do without his politics in the Senate. But isn't there something tacky about only serving 2 years of a 6 year term? Didn't this guy make a commitment to the voters in 2010? It is not like he is resigning to become Vice President or something. I don't know, but if it were one of my Senators quitting this early in his/her term under such circumstances I would have a problem with it.

    December 6, 2012 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  3. sammieb51

    I'd wager 10 to 1 Haley selects herself to the position .... it'd save her lots of money in campaigning for the spot, plus it is easier to defend the position. Wonder what DeMint is getting for this gift?

    December 6, 2012 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  4. Runmoe

    Looks like the rats are abandoning the sinking Tea Party ship.

    December 6, 2012 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  5. rockysfan

    "This move puts him in a powerful position to further advance fiscal conservative principles," the adviser said.

    Really? When you're the minority. Clearly you still don't get it repubs, do you? ROFLMAO!!!

    December 6, 2012 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  6. SFRich

    No fear GOP. As you reflect over the results of the 2012 election trying to determine why you lost, there's good ol' Jim DeMint heading off to the Heritage Foundation so he can be the head wingnut. Good luck with that.

    December 6, 2012 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  7. nomad2003

    ALL congress folks should limit themselves to two terms.
    He is doing like he said he would do, kinda rare in congress.

    The national debt today, probably would have been 20 trillion without him...

    He only wanted a balanced budget ammendment, but then the dems would not have a limitless credit card as Obama requested.

    December 6, 2012 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  8. PaulCat

    Great news. He'll just receive a paycheck elsewhere for doing nothing.

    December 6, 2012 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  9. johnnyb

    So he wasn't really committed to public service and he was not effective. Good he is leaving.

    December 6, 2012 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  10. Pete

    Just another piece of republican tea party crap going down the drain,good riddence ...The man that said that we don't need to raise revenues to get out of this economic mess,his mouth overran his ass that's why hes supposidly resigning ,he had no choice..Demint is like a younger McCain ,quick on the tongue,slow on the brain and it shows that's why you don't hear from him publicly that much anymore,he's caustic!!So again good riddence and Heritage Foundation deserves your ignorence,another republican that saw the writtings on the wall,the rats are jumping ship,who's next Boehner,we'll see won't we!!

    December 6, 2012 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  11. ted

    Rumor is he is changing his name to Norver Groquist, so he can be a troll and get the unsuspecting to sign a pledge of allegiance to him.

    December 6, 2012 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  12. PaulCat

    ......and take Lindsey Graham with you.

    December 6, 2012 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |

    Looks like the-rats are jumping off the sinking Tea Party ship.

    December 6, 2012 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  14. ToldUso

    Tranlsation: "I'll be running for pres in 2016 and don't want any responsibility for what happens in Congress until then".

    December 6, 2012 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  15. SC born and raised

    As a life-long South Carolinian, I have watched with dismay as DeMint has led his constituents down the primrose path of radical conservatism, accomplishing nothing for the state in the process. My fear now is that Haley will appoint someone even worse, such as Mulvaney who is nothing but another follower.

    December 6, 2012 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  16. Siara

    Head of the Kock propaganda department. Well, that's a logical progression from what he's doing now...

    December 6, 2012 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  17. JC

    There goes rat #1, jumping ship. The GOP is going down and they know it.

    December 6, 2012 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  18. lobo joe

    A wise choice, let the Republicans pay for him and not the taxpayer. This is proof positive there is a Santa Claus and there is a God, although he was a bit slow, in this case.

    December 6, 2012 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  19. Smarterest Human

    The "inside" is filled with career cronies who just take the $$ and handouts and have no desire to do any good for anyone but themselves.

    December 6, 2012 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  20. Charlie

    Republican Senator Jim DeMint is one of the best politicians money can buy.

    December 6, 2012 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  21. Thinkstr8

    Another politician leaving to join a lobby group; he should not receive a pension! The HF should take Bachmann as well since it is a a republican leaning think tank. Why not staff it with people that think they can think!

    December 6, 2012 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  22. LittleBearFN

    He will fit in very well with the loonies over in the Heritage Foundation. May his reign last until Heritage Foundation's demise.

    December 6, 2012 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  23. Ken

    Palin and DeMint –

    Quitting is SOOOO the Republican thing to do!!!

    December 6, 2012 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  24. Charles

    He got part of it right. Everyone will fare better with him out.

    December 6, 2012 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  25. Fuzz

    Good riddance! One fewer Neanderthal in the Senate. Maybe South Carolina will elect someone a little less embarrassing & backwards-looking to represent their state.

    December 6, 2012 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
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