DeMint Panned by GOP

Posted July 15, 2008 at 6:47pm

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) went into damage-control mode Tuesday as his GOP colleagues complained that his stalling tactics on the Senate floor have gone too far.

After demanding — and then missing — a Friday vote on President Bush’s global AIDS program, DeMint used the Republicans’ weekly policy lunch to explain his position but stopped short of an apology, his office confirmed.

“The fact that he wasn’t here for that vote on Friday really hurt him with his colleagues,” said Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), one of 68 Senators who stayed in town for the vote. “It was inappropriate for him to do what he did unless he’s there to vote on it.”

Democrats complained about being forced to change their schedules at the last minute, and even DeMint’s allies said the conservative firebrand was in hot water with his fellow Republicans.

“I don’t think Jim did himself any favors by missing the Friday vote,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who noted that he was not upset by DeMint’s absence.

A DeMint aide said the Senator explained to his colleagues that he was sorry if anyone was inconvenienced, but that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had been attempting to intimidate him on the AIDS measure, knowing DeMint wouldn’t be in town on Friday. The aide said Reid could have scheduled the vote for Monday evening. DeMint missed the vote to attend a family wedding.

Democrats shot back that they were not going to help DeMint delay the global AIDS bill any longer, noting that if the vote on the motion to proceed had been held Monday, consideration of amendments might not have started until today. Friday’s vote allowed the Senate to begin debating amendments on Monday.

“Why should we sit around and wait for Republicans to obstruct the president’s own bill?” one Senate Democratic leadership aide said.

Missing the AIDS vote is just the latest frustration for many of DeMint’s GOP colleagues, whose list of peeves includes his recent efforts to delay bills on AIDS and housing — both of which enjoy broad bipartisan support — as well as his previous efforts to block an immigration measure and a bill to beef up lobbying and ethics rules.

“If it’s a constant endeavor that achieves no end … then we’re circumventing the whole reason we’re here as a United States Senate,” Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said of DeMint’s tactics. “To single-handedly and constantly shut down the process … what are we trying to accomplish?”

Snowe argued that Senators should pick their battles, rather than holding up almost every major piece of legislation, as DeMint appears to be doing.

“I think it’s better to be discerning and distinguishing in your efforts,” she said.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) defended DeMint’s right to use Senate rules to his advantage, but complained that, “You see a situation in the Senate where we as a party are in a lockdown.” He said Democrats and the White House have contributed to the problem.

The 56-year-old DeMint, elected to the Senate in 2004, never has been in the running for Mr. Collegiality. His attacks on earmarks have annoyed Members on both sides, and institutionalists say he has relied on tactics more suited for the House, where he honed his political skills during three terms there.

Conservative on fiscal and social issues, he has outflanked the administration to the right recently.

“He’s not the Minority Leader, and on more than one occasion, he’s acted like he is,” grumbled one GOP Senator who asked to remain anonymous. “Being headstrong doesn’t mean you’re right.”

Burr, who sides with DeMint on many policy matters, said even he thinks DeMint has erred on occasion in using Senate rules to shut down or stall debate.

“There are times that I think the tactics that he uses might not be the best, but we all have our own comfort levels,” Burr said.

DeMint dismissed the criticisms, saying he feels it is his duty to defend the rights of the Republicans, who he said have been shut out of the legislative process by heavy-handed Democratic procedural ploys.

“I know we have a few weak-kneed Republicans who are willing to let Reid run over them, but someone has to stand up for our rights to offer amendments,” DeMint said in a statement. “Republicans represent millions of Americans whose voices are being silenced on bill after bill by Reid’s strong arm tactics, and I’ve had enough of it.”

Burr said that, like the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), aka “Sen. No,” DeMint is unlikely to be discouraged by complaints within his own party.

“Sen. Helms proved that’s not a deterrent,” Burr said. “I don’t think Jim is going to stop being the fiscal hawk and using minority rules to slow down the pace of legislation.”