Tea party favorite Demint resigning from U.S. Senate
WASHINGTON — Sen. Jim DeMint, patron saint of the tea party and a wouldbe Republican kingmaker, announced suddenly Thursday he would resign his South Carolina seat to head Washington’s conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, a shift that reverberated through the GOP.
Just two years into a second, six-year term, DeMint said he would step down Jan. 1 to helm Heritage while continuing the conservative fight. He will replace Edwin Feulner, who made more than $1.2 million last year.
The 61-year-old lawmaker, known to hurry home to South Carolina nearly every weekend, had signaled this term would be his last. But his abrupt announcement shocked even his closest Republican colleagues.
“When he told me this morning, I about fell off my couch,” said South Carolina’s other senator, Republican Lindsey Graham. “I didn’t see this coming.”
Prizing ideology over electability, DeMint sometimes infuriated fellow Republicans, picking sides in GOP primaries with decidedly mixed results. He had no patience for centrist Republicans, pushing the party to the right while bankrolling candidates through his political action committee, the Senate Conservatives Fund.
“One of the most rewarding things I’ve done in the Senate is work with the grass roots to help elect a new generation of leaders who have the courage to fight for the principles of freedom that make this country so great,” DeMint said in his statement announcing his departure. “I’m confident these senators will continue the legacy of conservative leaders before them.”
DeMint also has sometimes been a thorn in the GOP side on legislation, just this week criticizing House Speaker John Boehner’s “fiscal cliff’ counteroffer to President Barack Obama that would raise tax revenue $800 billion as crushing for American jobs.
Democrats pointed out that in facing off this fall against a party DeMint helped push rightward, they increased their numbers in this year’s elections and will hold a 55-45 The resignation of Sen. Jim DeMint gives Gov. Nikki Haley sole authority to choose South Carolina’s next senator, and the only indication she’s made is that it won’t be her. Haley could make history by appointing Rep. Tim Scott. A Republican, he would become South Carolina’s first AfricanAmerican U.S. senator. State law gives Haley no timeline, though she says she won’t drag out a decision. Whomever she chooses would hold the seat until an election in 2014. edge in the Senate next year.
“His effect on the system may have been more beneficial to Democrats than to Republicans,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Sen. John Cornyn, RTexas, who headed the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said he and DeMint agreed as conservatives “on 95 percent of the issues.”
“I wish him well,” he said.
There are several Republicans who owe their seats to DeMint, and they expressed appreciation for a man they consider the instigator of the tea party movement.
“We have a much bigger liberty caucus in the Senate than we did before,” said Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, one of the tea party-backed conservatives DeMint helped elect. “I think a lot of that is thanks to Jim DeMint.”
Said Florida’s Marco Rubio: “I would not be in the U.S. Senate had it not been for Jim DeMint taking a shot on me.”
In an interview Thursday with conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, DeMint said he was frustrated with the GOP when it held the majority during the George W. Bush administration. “But I am also reassured that we have now stocked the Senate with some of the strongest conservatives in the country today and that’s a big change. So I’m leaving the Senate better than I found it,” he said.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said DeMint forced Washington to address economic issues. WASHINGTON — Republicans on Capitol Hill are split between hard-core conservatives and pragmatists in a battle for the soul and control of the party after unexpected election setbacks last month.
The struggle is evident in vehement disagreements over their response to the fiscal cliff and a leader asserting his power over wayward members. Among voters, polls warn that Americans would blame Republicans if economic chaos ensues, while conservative interest groups insist this is no time to compromise. And among GOP insiders, a brawl could be