South Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint announced Thursday that he’s stepping down after the end of the year to take a job with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank. DeMint has long been a voice for the tea party movement, and a senator fond of the filibuster. But Missouri Senator Roy Blunt isn’t worried about a conservative void being left after his peer’s retirement.
Blunt praised the Heritage Foundation, calling it a “great opportunity” for his colleague. Although DeMint is a favorite among tea party types, Blunt says he’s not worried about a replacement filling his shoes.
“I think there are a number of my colleagues eager to fill that role," Blunt said in a conference call, laughing.
But Blunt also has reason to celebrate after DeMint’s announcement, since they both serve in the same committee.
“Frankly, I serve on the Commerce Committee, so it’s a great opportunity for me,” Blunt told reporters. "That allowed me to move up in the committee in a pretty rapid way, and I'm now the third or fourth ranking member."
Blunt now stands to move up in seniority on the powerful committee, although assignments have yet to be determined. And this is where it gets slightly confusing.
The two top ranking Republicans in the Senate Commerce Committee (Kay Bailey Hutchison and Olympia Snowe) didn't seek another term, which would have made DeMint the most senior GOP member.
But with his early resignation, that leaves Senator John Thune to take his place - except Thune is now conference chairman, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate after the floor leader and the whip. It's somewhat nebulous if Thune could have that position of power and still be the highest ranking Republican in the Commerce Committee.
It is unclear whether he would keep his party leadership role and take on the ranking member position “There is a process for these assignments that will play out and I look forward to discussing this development with my colleagues on the Commerce Committee,” Thune said in an emailed statement.
"We're all just learning of this now," a Republican aide on the Commerce Committee said. The aide added that there was no plan in place for which member would take over in DeMint's absence.
Michael Brumas, a spokesman for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), noted that the party ratios and membership of each committee are still being decided.
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