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. Rick McDaniel

    Reid has handed the Senate to Obama, on a silver platter. The Senate is fully under Obama control. He will seize the House next, and no one will challenge him. He will then become, a for real dictator, seizing control of Congress, and doing as he pleases.

    How long, before he becomes ASSAD?

    December 6, 2012 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  2. Sam Adams

    Goodbye. First, he espouses the Bush administration 2005 solar energy initiatives and gets SOLYNDRA approved for loan guarantees, one of eight prominent GOP senators to do this, and then speaks out opposing SOLYNDRA when CHINA plays trade war and undercuts SOLYNDRA's competing solar energy technology in the market place, along with the other GOP senators. He obviously has an astoundingly short memory or chameleon political change of heart for the causes he supported, doubtless reacting to political pressure to change his tunes.

    December 6, 2012 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  3. Steve

    No big deal. Another right wing person will replace him. It is South Carolina.

    December 6, 2012 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  4. Eric

    Demint is one of 4-5 senators worth anything. Very sad to see him go. He was one of 6 senators to oppose the treasonous NDAA that most democrats and the rest of republicans supported with Obama signing. He also truly believed in cutting spending unlike his hypocritical counterparts who claim to want that but then grow government at every turn.

    December 6, 2012 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  5. Kelby in Houston, TX

    The state of South Carolina will only send us someone who is just as stupid and difficult to deal with.

    December 6, 2012 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  6. Emerson

    Let's see now. Hard right kingmaker and professional obstuctionist steps down from Senate to take a position at the Hard Right Fantasy Corporation a/k/a the Hertiage Foundation. Could it have something to do with money?

    December 6, 2012 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  7. Don Sporns

    There is nothing to be happy about. Haley will appoint another tea party nut.

    December 6, 2012 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  8. ppppuuuuuu

    Thank you Lord!

    December 6, 2012 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  9. vic , nashville ,tn

    Some thing going on tea party they accept the defeat

    December 6, 2012 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  10. Until The Wheels Fall Off

    Palin/ DeMint GOP ticket in 2016!

    Their slogan can be: We know when to quit . . .half-way through the term!

    December 6, 2012 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  11. Eddy

    Republicans cleaning house in the Congress? First, some House committee heads, now Senator DeMint........Hmmmm.......

    December 6, 2012 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  12. Rob

    I'm sure he'll make more money now that he doesn't have a fake set of ethics rules from which to abide by.

    December 6, 2012 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  13. Al

    Good riddance! Now for someone to call in an exterminator and get rid of the rest of the Tea Party infestation.

    December 6, 2012 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  14. cedar rapids

    'vote for me, I will represent you, vote for me, I will represent you.
    ok, got a better offer now, cya.'

    I do not care which party you belong to; unless you have some medical reason, or something devastating happen in your personal life, if you ask the people to to vote for you and you are their representative, you serve your term. Not to do so is insulting to the people.

    December 6, 2012 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  15. Mr. Patton

    How can anyone have a favorable opinion of a quitter such as Mr. DeMint?

    December 6, 2012 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  16. Thomas

    Maybe I am becoming as paranoid as this guy's supporters. Why would he leave now with what is going on? There is more here than is being said.

    December 6, 2012 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  17. David

    He knew the ship was sinking so he bailed before the defeats could rub off on him. Smart man to do so! He knew President Obama had won the battle.

    December 6, 2012 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  18. RillyKewl

    YeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaYYYYY!!!!! Good riddance.
    Gotta go for that multimillionaire Koch-funded paycheck? Fine by me.
    Worst congressman, finally off the government dole!

    December 6, 2012 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  19. WachetAuf

    Haley will appoint herself. But it makes no difference. South Carolina is the home of Strom Thurmond. It has birthed many generations of bigots who will be elected for hundreds of years. The sins of the father are passed on to the sons.

    December 6, 2012 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  20. Larry in Houston

    Ohhhh Rick McDaniel – LOL – sounds like you are scared of your own shaddow. You need to get with the program, man.

    December 6, 2012 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  21. yogi

    May be this is what the Mayan calendar was referring to, a better future without the tea party.

    December 6, 2012 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  22. Scott

    another quitter, why run for office to only quit after1/3 of the way in. Its shameful for republicans, it shows we don't finish what we start.

    December 6, 2012 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  23. Lynda/Minnesota

    "Well, might as well you leave. South Carolina is one of the poorest states, lowest in education, One of the highest in poverty, one of the highest in teen pregnancy, one of the highest in illiteracy, and one of the lowest in their contribution to the Federal Government. So it make sense he leaves. What a waste of state.."

    And now that he's milked his constituents for all they were worth, he's ready to go on to bigger and better things. For himself that is. And laughing all the way to the bank. When will GOPerville voters ever learn ... ?

    December 6, 2012 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  24. RillyKewl

    Best replacement choice? Stephen Colbert.
    Finally a congressional choice I could believe in.

    December 6, 2012 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  25. C

    Sounds like somebody wants to run for president in 2016 and doesn't want to have to record a vote on any of these tough compromises coming up in the next year.

    December 6, 2012 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
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