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 McConnellGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat McConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Brent Budowsky: A plea to Alabama voters 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.

“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 PaulLexington mayor launches bid for Congress Trump-free Kennedy Center Honors avoids politics Meet the Iran hawk who could be Trump's next secretary of State 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 RubioRyan pledges 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Richard Gere welcomes lawmakers' words of support for Tibet Dem lawmaker gives McConnell's tax reform op-ed a failing grade 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 JohnsonOvernight Cybersecurity: Panel pushes agencies on dropping Kaspersky software | NC county won't pay ransom to hackers | Lawmakers sound alarm over ISIS 'cyber caliphate' GOP chairman warns of ISIS's ‘cyber caliphate’ Overnight Finance: House approves motion to go to tax conference — with drama | GOP leaders to consider Dec. 30 spending bill | Justices skeptical of ban on sports betting | Mulvaney won't fire official who sued him MORE (R-Wis.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSupreme Court takes on same-sex wedding cake case House approves motion to go to tax conference — with drama Trump really will shrink government, starting with national monuments MORE (R-Utah) through his leadership political action committee, the Senate Conservatives Fund.

Paul, Lee and Sen. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranMcConnell works to salvage tax bill GOP in furious push for tax-reform votes Overnight Tech: Lawmakers want answers on Uber breach | Justices divided in patent case | Tech makes plea for net neutrality on Cyber Monday 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 GrahamGOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration We are running out of time to protect Dreamers US trade deficit rises on record imports from China 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 blasts Democrats over unwillingness to probe Clinton GOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration Thanks to the farm lobby, the US is stuck with a broken ethanol policy 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 CorkerFormer Dem Tenn. gov to launch Senate bid: report McConnell 'almost certain' GOP will pass tax reform Former New Mexico gov: Trump's foreign policy is getting 'criticized by everybody' MORE (R-Tenn.) and Mike JohannsMike JohannsFarmers, tax incentives can ease the pain of a smaller farm bill Lobbying World To buy a Swiss company, ChemChina must pass through Washington 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 BennetAvalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign GOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration Schumer downplays shutdown chances over DACA fight MORE (D-Colo.) pressing President Obama to tackle entitlement reform.

Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrSessions argued presidents can obstruct justice in Clinton impeachment trial Trump Jr. to meet with Senate panel amid Russia probe Trump’s Russian winter grows colder with Flynn plea deal 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 IsaksonSenate ethics panel wants details on sexual harassment allegations Senate leaders push tax debate into Friday Senate Ethics Committee opens 'preliminary inquiry' into Franken allegations 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.