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Former Sen. Jim DeMint Ousted at Heritage Foundation

Board cites ‘significant and worsening management issues’

Former Sen.  Jim DeMint of South Carolina was ousted Tuesday as president of the conservative Heritage Foundation. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Former Sen.  Jim DeMint of South Carolina was ousted Tuesday as president of the conservative Heritage Foundation. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Former Sen. Jim DeMint was ousted Tuesday as president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, which has sparred with congressional GOP leadership and saw its influence ascend during the Trump administration.

More changes appear on the horizon for the foundation, which is aligned with the hard-line and recalcitrant House Freedom Caucus.

“After a comprehensive and independent review of the entire Heritage organization, the Board determined there were significant and worsening management issues that led to a breakdown of internal communications and cooperation,” Thomas A. Saunders III, chairman of the board, said in a statement. “While the organization has seen many successes, Jim DeMint and a handful of his closest advisers failed to resolve these problems.”

Saunders said the board had asked for, and received, DeMint’s resignation and that the group’s longtime president Ed Feulner would take the reins during a “thorough search” for its next leader. DeMint’s departure comes four years after he took the helm of Heritage.

The South Carolina Republican made more than $1.1 million, according to Heritage’s 2015 tax forms. Saunders’ statement did not detail any severance agreements.

Heritage has been active in congressional and executive branch debates. Last month, the group urged lawmakers to oppose the House GOP leadership-backed bill to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law.

The foundation’s employees took on roles during the Trump transition, helping to craft the new administration’s policy and personnel decisions. After years of taking an uncompromising approach that changed its reputation from a serious policy think tank to hard-right agitator, Heritage’s gamble appeared to be paying off with President Donald Trump’s election.

The group’s affiliated lobbying arm, Heritage Action for America, started in 2010 before DeMint came on board, but increased the money it spends on federal advocacy during DeMint’s leadership. Heritage disclosed paying out $530,000 on federal lobbying in 2016, the most of any year. Michael Needham serves as CEO of Heritage Action.

DeMint, first elected to the Senate in 2004, resigned from Congress in the midst of his second term. He also served three House terms beginning in 1999.

His Heritage Foundation bio quotes him as saying that joining the group was “like coming home.” DeMint took over for Heritage’s longtime president Feulner, a founding trustee, who ran the foundation from 1977 to 2013.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and nearly 50 other lawmakers, including House Freedom Caucus founder Jim Jordan of Ohio, dispatched a letter of support to DeMint on Monday.

“While it is impossible to calculate the precise impact of your service in Washington, we are confident that your positive influence will continue to be felt not only for years or decades, but through many generations,” they wrote.

DeMint’s one-time Senate speechwriter Amanda Carpenter tweeted that people “ousting DeMint have already created the worst news cycle for Heritage in years. Not a good sign.”

But Saunders said in his statement that the organization was bigger than any one person.

“Heritage is a permanent policy research institution fighting for conservative ideas, as Ed Feulner often reminds us,” he said. “We remain committed, as ever, to the principles that have made America great: free enterprise; limited government; individual freedom; traditional American values; and a strong national defense. This will continue under the leadership of Ed and his successor.”

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