Sen. Jim DeMint is resigning from the U.S. Senate to succeed Ed Fuelner as head of the Heritage Foundation.
The South Carolina Republican is two years into his second term in the Senate and had previously said he would not seek a third term. Gov. Nikki Haley, R-SC, will name an interim appointee who is expected to serve two years. The seat will be open in 2014, the same year South Carolina's other senator, Lindsay Graham, will seek re-election.
"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 said in a statement issued earlier this morning.
"I'm leaving the Senate now, but I'm not leaving the fight. I've decided to join The Heritage Foundation at a time when the conservative movement needs strong leadership in the battle of ideas. No organization is better equipped to lead this fight and I believe my experience in public office as well as in the private sector as a business owner will help Heritage become even more effective in the years to come," DeMint said in the statement.
Feulner has led Heritage since 1973 and has built the foundation into the most widely supported conservative think tank in Washington. He will remain in an advisory capacity and will oversee Heritage's Asian Studies Center.
Feulner issued a statement this morning saying he told the foundation's board of directors three years ago of his resignation plans. He lauded the board's decision to hire DeMint, saying "his conservative credentials are sterling. National Journal recently ranked him as the most conservative member of the Senate. Americans for Tax Reform named him the No. 1 senator for his voting record on tax and spending policies. He is a favorite of the Tea Party, and he has earned a tremendous 99% rating from Heritage Action for America."
Feulner was the first executive director of the Republican Study Committee when he moved to Heritage. The RSC is the largest caucus in Congress. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-OH, who headed the committee through the current Congress, praised DeMint's decision.
"There is no better choice than Jim DeMint to lead this great organization. It is disappointing to lose his strong voice in the Senate, but I look forward to his continued conservative leadership at the helm of The Heritage Foundation. The folks at Heritage are an indispensable ideas factory for conservatives in Congress. South Carolina's loss is the country's gain."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, told Politico "we're sorry to see Jim go. He's had a distinguished career," then noted that his wife, former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, is a distinguished Heritage fellow. "She'll be reporting to him."
DeMint has been a thorn in the side of McConnell and other Republican congressional leaders and has pushed them hard to take a firmer position against President Obama's initiatives since 2008. He founded the Senate Conservative Fund in 2009 explicitly for the purpose of recruiting conservative candidates, including some who challenged and defeated GOP incumbents.
UPDATE: RedState head says DeMint gains new power
Erick Erickson, the fiery leader of RedState.com, said he first felt "sadness" at the news of DeMint's resignation, but that feeling quickly changed.
"Jim DeMint’s power in the conservative movement just grew exponentially. A man who was going to retire in four years anyway, will now be leading the conservative movement from its base of operations for years to come," Erickson said in a post on the RedState web site, one of the most widely read and politically influential on the digital Right.
"Without Jim DeMint we would most likely not presently have in the United States Senate Pat Toomey, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, Jeff Flake, Ron Johnson, and Ted Cruz. We would not have a Republican establishment that now worries conservatives might actually primary them.
"Without Jim DeMint we would still have a conservative movement that is part and parcel the Republican Party in name, word, and deed. DeMint showed the Republican Party can be challenged from within and that conservatism can be distinctly voiced from within the party moving it right, not moving with it," he continued.
Go here for the full Erickson post.
Mark Tapscott is executive editor of The Washington Examiner.