With that in mind, Republican sources said GOP leaders are keeping a close eye on the South Carolinian as he continues his crusades. Those GOP sources said conversations between the leadership and DeMint have taken place, and the message has been made clear that McConnell’s patience isn’t limitless when it comes to DeMint’s efforts to block legislation or shut down the chamber to push his priorities.
So far, however, most of DeMint’s colleagues — especially those in conservative corners — seem to be accepting of his procedural maneuvers.
“My own view is it’s every Senator’s right to protect their interests,” said Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.). “He was very effective on the immigration bill, and a lot of his colleagues were with him.”
And while Gregg acknowledged DeMint carries less favor with Senators over his current cause to use the ethics package as the vehicle for his opposition to earmark spending, he believes DeMint’s standing in the Conference remains intact.
“Everyone is very individualistic around here,” Gregg said. “You don’t run the risk of losing the respect of your colleagues just for being individualistic. It’s just the opposite.”
But not all Senators view it that way, especially among veteran Republicans who cherish a chamber that’s known for putting a premium on decorum, deliberation and seniority. DeMint, in contrast, was part of the more aggressive band of Republicans elected in 1994, some of whom have since moved from the more partisan House to the Senate.
Sen. John Ensign (Nev.), who as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee is in the leadership circle, said the reviews of DeMint’s tactics “depends on what side you are on.”
For Ensign, that’s on the side of DeMint and others who he called “a breath of fresh air in the U.S. Senate.” Still, Ensign conceded that the approach isn’t without flaw, saying: “There’s always a risk, there’s always a balance. But when you are in the minority, you need to exercise your rights.”
Indeed, DeMint has a loyal following among more junior Republicans, particularly his fellow House alumni, and those Senators who believe it behooves the party to fight rather than negotiate with the now-majority Democrats.
“It’s a thankless task,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who joined DeMint in his efforts to defeat the immigration reform measure.
“Some people get mad at him, they want him slowed down,” Sessions said. “But right now, most Republicans respect what he’s doing. Really, my impression is that even those who are dubious of DeMint’s leadership are beginning to feel like this is healthy and that maybe we do need a more vigorous debate.”
DeMint said while some senior Republicans such as Sen. Kit Bond (Mo.) have supported him, he acknowledged that much of his backing has come from the GOP’s increasing ranks of junior lawmakers.
“It’s not universally true, but to a point it’s true. It’s one of the unfortunate things that has happened to Congress over the years,” DeMint said, adding that many lawmakers are afraid to speak out because they are afraid of reprisals.
“A lot of people are afraid if they come out strong against earmarks they’re not going to get any,” DeMint noted.