McConnell, DeMint meet about plum Senate Finance panel post

In a sign of the growing power of conservatives within the Senate Republican Conference, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate passes 0B defense bill Overnight Health Care: New GOP ObamaCare repeal bill gains momentum Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea MORE (R-Ky.) held a rare meeting with Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) on Monday evening.

The topic: an opening on the most powerful committee in the Senate, the Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over taxes, trade, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

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“It was a very positive meeting,” DeMint said.

“It did come up and I expressed an interest — it’s where all the issues I came to work on in Congress are,” DeMint said of the opening on the Finance panel. “I was considered a legislative nerd in the House because I worked on tax reform, Social Security reform, healthcare, Medicare. Those are really the issues I want to work on.”

But DeMint said he told McConnell that he would “respect whatever decision he makes; he’s got to make the best decision for the conference.”

McConnell is expected to decide by the beginning of next week who gets the spot.

DeMint and McConnell were antagonists for much of the 111th Congress, when DeMint pressed his leader to support a moratorium on earmarks and McConnell, a member of the Appropriations Committee, resisted.

McConnell’s consideration of DeMint for the Finance slot is a sign their relationship has improved significantly since Election Day. It also signals that DeMint’s stature within the Senate GOP conference has grown with the emergence of the Tea Party as a national force.

DeMint, a leader in the conservative grassroots movement, defied his leader in the 2010 Kentucky Republican primary by endorsing Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Lawmakers grapple with warrantless wiretapping program MORE, a Tea Party favorite, while McConnell backed the establishment’s choice, former Secretary of State Trey Grayson. Paul won.

He was also an early supporter of Tea Party star Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Trump bets base will stick with him on immigration MORE (R-Fla.). DeMint has steered hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to help elect conservative Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Sen. Cassidy plans to bring down Medicaid Senate committee schedules hearing on health care block grants MORE (R-Wis.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea MORE (R-Utah) through his leadership political action committee, the Senate Conservatives Fund.

Paul, Lee and Sen. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranIT modernization measure included in Senate-approved defense policy bill Campaign video touts apprenticeships making Trump commemorative coins Senate approves Trump's debt deal with Democrats MORE (R-Kan.) joined DeMint in forming the Senate Tea Party Caucus at the beginning of the year. And most of the chamber’s conservatives attend the Republican Steering Committee lunches DeMint hosts each week.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTop Louisiana health official rips Cassidy over ObamaCare repeal bill Senate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions MORE (R-S.C.) said the relationship between his home-state colleague and McConnell has improved since the beginning of the year.

“He and Sen. McConnell have a good working relationship,” Graham said. “Last cycle was a very contentious election cycle. Jim has been very good for the conference. He’s reached out to people, and he’s been a good team member up here.”

Graham said the relationship has been a “two-way street” and McConnell has responded to DeMint’s concerns about the party.

“People recognize that Jim’s concerns about our party are legitimate and I think Jim understands that we need coalitions to govern up here,” he said.

DeMint said during the last election cycle that he wanted to bring more conservatives to the Senate.

“I’d rather have 30 Marco Rubios in the Senate than 60 Arlen Specters,” he said in reference to the longtime centrist member of the Senate Republican Conference, who switched to the Democratic Party in 2009.

Conservatives have more clout in the chamber with the election of Paul, Lee, Johnson, Toomey, Rubio and Moran.

Conservative groups, such as the Club for Growth, which spent about $200,000 to support Lee in his race against former Sen. Bob Bennett in the 2010 Utah Republican primary, are pulling for DeMint.

“We would be very supportive of DeMint being on the committee,” said Andrew Roth, vice president of government affairs at the Club for Growth.

Roth said the resignation of Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and the retirement of Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) at the end of next year means “that committee is going to be starving for true fiscal conservatives, and I think only Jim DeMint matches that.”

“With corporate tax reform being a hot topic over the next several months or year, we need him on the committee,” Roth said.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley: 'Good chance' Senate panel will consider bills to protect Mueller Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea GOP state lawmakers meet to plan possible constitutional convention MORE (R-Iowa), the former chairman of the panel, said it would be a good idea to tap DeMint.

“He has a sound tax policy,” Grassley said. “I’m kind of glad when you get good, sound economic people on the committee.”

Sens. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Corker pressed as reelection challenges mount MORE (R-Tenn.) and Mike JohannsMike JohannsLobbying World To buy a Swiss company, ChemChina must pass through Washington Republican senator vows to block nominees over ObamaCare co-ops MORE (R-Neb.) are also vying for the seat on Finance, according to GOP aides.

DeMint has more seniority than both those lawmakers.

Corker and Johanns are closer to McConnell, but their conservative credentials are not as strong.

The Club for Growth gives DeMint a 100 percent lifetime rating, compared to a 90 percent rating for Johanns and a 78 percent rating for Corker.

The American Conservative Union gives DeMint a 98.7 percent lifetime rating. Corker and Johanns received ratings of 85.5 and 87.5 percent, respectively, from the group.

One GOP source who supports Johanns questioned the relevance of these ratings.

“Is the level of your conservatism a barometer of getting committee assignments?” the source said.

Johanns has expressed his interest in the Finance post and has taken leadership roles on tax policy and entitlement reform by spearheading the fight to repeal the 1099 tax-reporting requirement in the healthcare reform law and circulating a letter with Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetGOP eying 'blue slip' break to help Trump fill the courts NFL star claims he was victim of 'abusive conduct' by Las Vegas police Gardner throws support behind DREAM Act MORE (D-Colo.) pressing President Obama to tackle entitlement reform.

Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrLawmakers grapple with warrantless wiretapping program Facebook under fire over Russian ads in election 5 senators call for US to shutter embassy in Havana MORE (R-N.C.), another senator thought to be in the running for the Finance seat, has said he is happy with his current committee assignments.

Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonHouse sends resolution urging Trump to condemn white supremacists Senate approves resolution condemning white supremacist groups The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Ga.), whose name was in the mix for one of the two open seats on Finance earlier this year, withdrew his name from consideration last week because he is a member of the Senate Ethics Committee, which investigated Ensign prior to his resignation.