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.

- Follow the Ticker on Twitter: @PoliticalTicker

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. Facts don't Lie

    DING DONG the witch is DEAD!!

    December 6, 2012 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  2. Mike

    The Heritage Foundation and conservatism itself is becoming more and more irrelevant.

    December 6, 2012 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  3. Kurt

    "........of The Heritage Foundation, a longtime and well-respected conservative think tank in Washington."

    Says who!?!?

    December 6, 2012 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  4. judy

    good time this old fart left. He brings nothing to the table and the republican party needs to move forward or become obsolet

    December 6, 2012 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  5. BigTBone

    Tim Scott is a sellout joke. He toes the conservative party line. I imagine his constituency isn't pleased. Check out his FB page for the animosity he brings about...

    Conservatives may survive if they ever get around to actually conserving anything other than their own greed.

    Adios to an antiquated relic who probably cheated in his last election.

    December 6, 2012 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  6. Donna

    A reactionary South Carolina republican quits the senate for lucrative, ultra right wing Heritage Foundation. It figures.. I hope the hordes of pumped-up tea party politicos don't get hurt in their scramble for the vacated senate seat.

    December 6, 2012 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  7. Bill in AZ

    And nothing of value was lost.

    December 6, 2012 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  8. newsscanner

    Must have a scandal of some kind on the horizon.

    December 6, 2012 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  9. Mr. Rogers

    Never trust a quitter.

    December 6, 2012 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  10. Anonymous

    Nice to see the country is finally moving ahead and the lunatics are being left behind....

    December 6, 2012 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  11. Jax Kearney

    I guess he wasn't making enough money as a senator... I'm getting tired of elected officials "resigning" in the middle of their terms to take a job making usually a million or more per year!

    December 6, 2012 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  12. Debits-n-Credits

    Is he going to go and work for a lobbying firm now?

    I understand lobbyists make anywhere from $1million to $2million, per year, influencing our politicians (both parties) to give wealthy individuals, corporations and concerns favorable and preferential treatment.

    December 6, 2012 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  13. jcsomebody

    Stepping down to work at the Heritage Foundation? Ha. What a joke. You are doing God's work, Jim.

    December 6, 2012 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  14. kmac

    The only difference for him is where he goes each morning, and won't get a Fed paycheck. He has been on their payroll so long he might as well be there.

    December 6, 2012 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  15. John

    When you find that your "anchors" are the ones pulling your boat under, it is time to cut the chain. A good first step in re-branding for the GOP. And kudos to the GOP for finding one and only good use for their self-deportation ideas.

    December 6, 2012 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  16. chill

    Hallelujah!! But really, who'd ever expect to find the words DeMint and think in the same sentence? I really don't understand why he'd join a Think Tank when he is so rigid he beleives he already has all the answers. Ideologues are noted for thinking anything through, regardless of their stripes.

    December 6, 2012 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  17. Cheesehead

    Another tea party fascist goes down, I love it.

    December 6, 2012 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  18. sputnick1

    Good another republican out of the way. Let's continue to move folward

    December 6, 2012 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  19. Richy

    Bye, Jim. Don't let the door..........

    December 6, 2012 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  20. Smeagel4T

    So sorry, Tea Partiers, but DeMint wants to go rake in the big bucks now. That's the ultimate GOP ideology: money, money, money.

    December 6, 2012 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  21. Barry

    Follow the money. This guy is a snake..

    December 6, 2012 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  22. NoTags

    So DeMint is going to work for the Koch brothers. The Heritage Foundation (think tank) is part of the Koch Foundation associate program.

    DeMint belongs in a 'learning tank' rather than a 'think tank'. He's dumber than a box of rocks.

    December 6, 2012 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  23. Jack

    Not worth a comment!

    December 6, 2012 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  24. eholl

    Adios and good riddance!!

    December 6, 2012 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  25. Paul

    Translation: I got my healthcare for life and all the other perks it is time to move to a position that pays more and has less headaches.

    December 6, 2012 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15