WASHINGTON — As speculation swirls surrounding the future of Jim DeMint's tenure at the Heritage Foundation, allies in the U.S. House and Senate are rallying in support of their former colleague.
Congressional Republicans are in the process of drafting a letter in praise of DeMint's leadership of the conservative think tank.
Late Monday, the text of the letter was still being tweaked and signatures were still being collected. So far at least two South Carolina Republicans have lent their names to the effort, according to their spokespeople: U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott.
Both Duncan and Scott were elected to the House in the tea party wave of 2010. The movement and political sea change were spurred in large part by DeMint, who was then a U.S. senator from South Carolina known to assume a combative stance in pursuit of conservative principles.
When DeMint resigned at the end of 2012 to become Heritage's president, Scott was appointed by then-Gov. Nikki Haley to serve out the remainder of the term. Scott has since been re-elected on his own merits.
The letter comes as multiple media outlets reported last Friday that DeMint's contract was not being renewed.
Other South Carolina Republicans might sign the letter as well, but the note has been slow to make the rounds since it was only drafted late Friday after members had gone home for the week. They were just starting to filter back to Washington, D.C., Monday.
There are also still many questions about the circumstances under which DeMint is expected to be forced out of his leadership role. Some reports have spoken of a dissatisfaction from the Heritage Foundation's board with DeMint's insistence on turning the longstanding scholarly think tank into a hyper-partisan operation. Other sources said DeMint was the subject of a coup due to not being partisan enough.
There is speculation DeMint will be replaced by Mike Needham, the president of the think tank's political advocacy arm — Heritage Action, which has in the past been directly accused of undermining Capitol Hill Republicans' legislative agenda.
At the same time, there are rumblings the job might go to Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump's controversial chief strategist, confirming yet another narrative that the Heritage Foundation wants its next president to work hand in hand with the Trump administration.
Through DeMint's leadership, the Trump White House has hired staff, appointed Cabinet officials, adopted policy platforms and even nominated newest Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch according to Heritage Foundation recommendations. However, DeMint broke from the administration when it came to health care legislation, slamming the White House-backed proposal in March to repeal and replace Obamacare. There's some speculation the next president of the Heritage Foundation would be expected to be a more consistent partner.
In Greenville on Monday before heading to Capitol Hill, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters he was unaware of the circumstances surrounding DeMint's anticipated departure.
"Jim’s a dear friend. That caught me by surprise," Graham said. "I think he has done a good job, but I don’t know what that is all about. I guess we’ll know more in a few days.”
On Friday, U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., said he was similarly "taken aback" by the news.
Andrew Brown contributed from Greenville.