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Sasse expected to leave Senate to run University of Florida

Nebraska governor would fill GOP senator's seat

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., is reportedly planning to resign.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., is reportedly planning to resign. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. Ben Sasse is expected to resign from the Senate in the coming months after being named the sole finalist for the presidency of the University of Florida.

A frequent critic who voted to convict President Donald Trump when he was impeached in 2021, Sasse was also a wonkish critic of party politics and the way things work in Washington. He has described himself as independent and conservative. He told CNN in 2018 that he thought about leaving the Republican Party every day.

Nevertheless, data compiled by CQ Roll Call found he sided with his fellow Republicans on votes that split the parties 99 percent of the time during Trump’s presidency. 

On average, he supported Trump’s position on votes 95 percent of the time, but his support dropped from 97 percent in 2017 to 93 percent in 2020. He has voted to support President Joe Biden’s position 20 percent of the time.

The University of Florida presidential search committee announced it was unanimously recommending Sasse for the position of president on Thursday, and the Nebraska senator sounded enthusiastic about the opportunity to return to the world of academia.

“It’s the most important institution in the nation’s most economically dynamic state — and its board, faculty and graduates are uniquely positioned to lead this country through an era of disruption,” Sasse said in a statement.

“The caliber of teaching and research at UF is unmistakable, carried out through the core principles of shared governance and academic freedom. I’m thrilled about the opportunity to work alongside one of the nation’s most outstanding faculties.”

The Sasse nomination advances to the board of trustees of the university.

“This is right for the University of Florida, right for the state of Florida and right for the Sasse family,” Rahul Patel, chair of the presidential search committee, said in a statement. “Ben brings intellectual curiosity, a belief in the power and potential of American universities, and an unmatched track record of leadership spanning higher education, government and the private sector.”

The University of Florida president made $926,000 in 2019, according to WFTS-TV in Tampa.

Sasse’s resignation is not expected to affect the battle for control of the Senate, which is currently split 50-50 with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking ties.

Depending on the timing of Sasse’s actual resignation, it appears that the governor would appoint a successor to serve through Jan. 3, 2025. A Senate election would take place during the next statewide election in 2024 to fill the unexpired term. Sasse is in the second year of a six-year term he won in 2020 with 68 percent of the vote.

University of Nebraska regent Jim Pillen won the Republican primary for governor in May, defeating Trump-endorsed businessman Charles Herbster, 34 percent to 30 percent with state Sen. Brett Lindstrom getting 26 percent. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the November race Solid Republican.

The news of Sasse’s pending announcement was first reported by a KFAB radio reporter who is a former staffer for the senator.

John T. Bennett and Ryan Kelly contributed to this report.

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