He was one of the Senate GOP heroes who helped drive a stake through the Bush-Kennedy shamnesty bill. Now, National Journal profiles Sen. Jim DeMint’s continuing efforts to right the wayward Republicans in Washington as chair of the conservative Senate Steering Committee:
“When I first got to the Senate, I didn’t know anything” about the caucus, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., its current chairman, said in an interview. “It was just another lunch during the week.”
Last year, DeMint joined the Steering Committee’s executive team and became intimately involved in its primary activity, which is not lunches but legislation. The committee’s staff, led by Executive Director Ed Corrigan, reviews all of the bills that move through the Senate — sometimes five or six a day and as many as 30 on the busy days just before congressional recesses — to check for language that conservatives could find objectionable.
The staff, or the senators themselves, put the brakes on any bill they want to review or challenge. Despite Helms’s fighting words, the conservatives often work behind the scenes to craft compromises with legislative sponsors on a host of concerns, such as spending levels. But if the conservative senators fail to win concessions, they take their battles to the Senate floor, using a variety of parliamentary tactics that the Steering Committee has adopted or even pioneered over the past three decades.
“It’s not necessarily a status job,” DeMint said. “We probably do more legislating than a lot of chairmen of committees.”
It is through his Steering Committee post that DeMint, a first-term senator elected in 2004, has become a legislative force in the Democratic-controlled 110th Congress. Freshman president in the first of his three House terms, DeMint had never held public office before 1998. Now this back-to-basics reformer is making waves in the Republican caucus.
Last week, he and Corrigan camped out on the Senate floor to lead the conservatives’ successful effort to kill the immigration reform bill that had been a top domestic priority for President Bush. It was the latest victory in a series of battles that DeMint has led over the past six months. In December, he first made his mark as Steering Committee chairman by bringing the fiscal 2007 appropriations process to a halt, frustrating the outgoing GOP Senate leadership and kicking the unfinished spending work over to the incoming Democratic majority. Since January, he and his Steering Committee partners have doggedly pursued earmark reform, helped to kill an intelligence authorization bill, thwarted Democrats on measures benefiting labor unions, and blocked progress on several matters slated for House-Senate conference negotiations.
“Jim is leading an effort to try to change the culture of the Senate, and I think he’s succeeding,” says Pat Toomey, a former House colleague of DeMint’s who is now president of the Club for Growth, a group that backs conservative candidates.
Can we clone him?
The Politico has a separate but related story about DeMint’s battle with Harry Reid over ethics reform and earmarks:
As Congress returns from its July 4th recess, Democratic leaders are expected to try to jumpstart negotiations on a stalled lobbying reform and ethics package.
And they are expected to run into opposition from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who dealt the Democrats a stinging defeat prior to the July 4th recess with a procedural move that split the Democratic caucus.
DeMint backs one of the key reforms the Democrats have promised — a requirement that members disclose which earmarks they seek and certify that they have no financial interest linked to them.
In fact, he backs it so strongly that he is insisting that the House have no opportunity to alter it in conference, a demand the Democratic leadership calls a smokescreen for an attempt to derail the entire ethics reform project.
The potential impasse could delay action further and threaten passage of one of the Democrats’ most important campaign promises…
…DeMint says he supports the lobbying reform provisions in the package. But he isn’t likely to budge until he gets a promise from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that the new Senate rules on earmarks won’t be watered down or deleted from the final bill.
The earmark provision is a change in Senate rules, which DeMint argues shouldn’t be part of any conference committee with the House.
“The House has no reason to tinker with Senate rules,” said Wesley Denton, DeMint’s spokesman. “The only reason to want to put them in conference is because they intend to change them.”
Jim Manley, Reid’s spokesman, calls those assertions “phony as a two-dollar bill.”
In a Senate floor exchange before the recess, Reid said he wasn’t willing to cut a deal with DeMint on the earmark provision because it could open the door to renewed debate or side deals on dozens of other individual sections of the bill.
“It’s time we go to conference and work this out,” he said. “We’re not going to piecemeal this out here on the floor.”
Manley said Reid will renew his motion to create a conference committee soon after Congress returns.
Stay tuned for the showdown. We need more Jim DeMints–and not just in the Senate.