By Francesca Chambers and Katie LaPotin
In a surprise move Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina announced his retirement from Congress’ upper chamber this morning and announced that he would take over as President-elect of the Heritage Foundation next month.
In a statement released this morning, DeMint commented that, “It’s been an honor to serve the people of South Carolina in [the] United States Senate for the past eight years, but now it’s time for me to pass the torch to someone else and take on a new role in the fight for America’s future.”
DeMint, 61, has represented South Carolina in the U.S. Senate for the last eight years. He previously represented South Carolina’s fourth Congressional District for the six years leading up to his election to the U.S. Senate. While in the Senate he has made a reputation for himself as a key leader of the Tea Party movement. Through his PAC, the Senate Conservatives Fund, DeMint has helped elect likeminded individuals to the chamber, including Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas.
The Heritage Foundation is the leading think tank for conservative policy in the United States. Located in Washington, D.C., the foundation’s mission is “to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.”
Heritage Foundation founder Ed Feulner will retire as President of the organization in April, but will stay on as Chancellor of the Foundation and chairman of its Asian Studies Center. The date of Feulner’s departure from Heritage has long been known; the name of who would succeed him had not.
In a post on the organization’s “The Foundry” blog, Vice President of Communications, Mike Gonzalez, said Feulner “may be the hardest act to follow in Washington D.C.”
“He built Heritage into a permanent Washington institution, the leading think tank in America, Gonazlez writes. “After long consideration, Heritage’s board decided that the man in Washington to take the reins from Feulner was DeMint. He stood out as the right man at the right time for Heritage and the country.”
According to the Heritage Action scorecard, DeMint – along with his protégé Mike Lee of Utah – is the most conservative member of Congress. Both Senators have a 99 percent conservative rating from the grassroots arm of the Heritage Foundation. The next grouping of members rang in at only 97 percent.
As soon as his announcement became public, DeMint held a meeting with staffers of the Heritage Foundation to tell them how pleased he was to be joining their organization.
DeMint reportedly called the move “a big promotion” and said he feels right at home at the conservative organization.
“This literally feels like I just walked in the front door my own house,” DeMint said, according to Heritage’s Lachlan Markay.
In the address DeMint credited the staff of the Heritage Foundation for shaping his positions on public policy, saying that, “Every policy I ever developed… someone in this room helped me develop it.”
Minutes after the news was announced the phrases DeMint, Senate and Heritage began trending on twitter, as conservatives celebrated the news and politicos discussed what DeMint’s retirement from Congress would mean for the future of the Republican Party.
Republican officials were quick to thank DeMint for his service to the party. In a statement Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called DeMint “a powerful voice for conservative ideals in a town where those principles are too often hidden beneath business as usual.”
South Carolina governor Nikki Haley wrote on her facebook DeMint was a “true inspiration.”
“On a personal level, I value Jim’s leadership and friendship. Our state’s loss is the Heritage Foundation’s gain,” she said.
According to the Wall Street Journal, which first broke the news, Haley will appoint a replacement to DeMint’s seat for 2013 who will then have to run in a special election for the seat in 2014. South Carolina’s other Senator, Lindsey Graham, will also be up for reelection in 2014.
DeMint is the fourth member of Congress to announce his resignation since the Nov. 6 election – exactly one month ago. Reps. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-Ill.), Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) and Bob Filner (D-Calif.) have also made resignation announcements in the last month.
Update: A DeMint staff emails The Washington Post to clarify that DeMint does not have a “favorite” to replace him in the Senate.