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Jim DeMint In Line for Commerce Chairman

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Thwarted by fellow Republicans in the past when trying to join the Finance Committee, Sen. Jim DeMint is set to become the top party member on the Commerce Committee because of the coming retirements of Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Olympia Snowe.

Sen. Jim DeMint is set to become the top Republican on the Commerce Committee — a promotion that could cause heartburn among GOP leaders but one they appear unlikely to block.

The conservative South Carolina Republican maintains a sometimes antagonistic relationship with Conference leadership and some of his rank-and-file colleagues. Republican leaders thwarted DeMint’s bid to join the Finance Committee when a seat opened in 2009, and there is speculation among some Capitol Hill observers that he could be passed over for the top GOP spot on Commerce despite the usually sacred treatment of Senate seniority — particularly if Republicans win the majority and the slot becomes a chairmanship.

But Republican operatives who follow the Senate predicted that GOP leaders would not stand in the way of DeMint becoming the ranking member or chairman of the committee. One GOP insider said it wouldn’t be worth antagonizing conservative grass-roots activists and interest groups that would take offense. And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would no doubt be pilloried by tea party activists for the move — a scenario the would-be Majority Leader can’t afford if he wants to avoid a primary in 2014 as well as repair relations with conservatives who are angry with his backing of now-Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) primary challenger in 2010.

DeMint, who has been less combative with his fellow Republicans this Congress, said he looks forward to leading his party on Commerce next year and to hopefully becoming chairman. DeMint noted that current Chairman Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.) was his assigned Democratic mentor when he first arrived in the Senate, and he expressed confidence the two could work together to advance legislation. DeMint also remains interested in joining Finance, an endeavor in which GOP sources suggested that he could continue to face internal Conference resistance.

“I’d very much like to run the Commerce Committee, much rather it be a chairman than a ranking position,” DeMint said Wednesday in an interview. “I’d also like to be on the Finance Committee, which I was in line for last time.”

DeMint’s seniority on Commerce can be traced to the coming retirements of ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine), currently the second-ranking Republican on the panel. If DeMint does not end up as the next Republican leader on Commerce for whatever reason, the top spot could fall to Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.), who is just behind his South Carolina colleague in seniority.

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