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 McConnellCollins: 'Extremely disappointing' ObamaCare fix left out of spending deal House poised to vote on .3T spending bill Budowsky: Stop Trump from firing Mueller 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 PaulHouse poised to vote on .3T spending bill Overnight Finance: Lawmakers race to finalize omnibus | What we know about funding bill | White House on board | Fed raises rates for first time under Powell Senate passes controversial online sex trafficking bill 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 RubioRussia leak raises questions about staff undermining Trump House members urge Senate to confirm Trump's NASA nominee Rubio: McCabe 'should've been allowed to finish through the weekend' 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 JohnsonHouse passes 'right to try' drug bill Senate GOP shoots down bill blocking Trump tariffs Possible North Korea summit raises anxiety in Washington MORE (R-Wis.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Defense: Senate sides with Trump on military role in Yemen | Dem vets push for new war authorization on Iraq anniversary | General says time isn't 'right' for space corps Senate sides with Trump on providing Saudi military support Senate, Trump clash over Saudi Arabia MORE (R-Utah) through his leadership political action committee, the Senate Conservatives Fund.

Paul, Lee and Sen. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranThe Hill's 12:30 Report Co-founder of WhatsApp: 'It is time. #deletefacebook' Lawmakers zero in on Zuckerberg 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 GrahamDems aim to turn ObamaCare hikes into election weapon Steyer brings his push to impeach Trump to town halls across the nation Trump formally sends Pompeo nomination to Senate 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 on Trump calling Putin: 'I wouldn't have a conversation with a criminal' Lawmakers zero in on Zuckerberg GOP senator blocking Trump's Intel nominee 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 CorkerNearly 70 percent say Trump is a bad role model for children: poll PPP poll: Dem leads by 5 points in Tennessee Senate race Dem Iraq War vets renew AUMF push on 15th anniversary of war MORE (R-Tenn.) and Mike JohannsMichael (Mike) Owen 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 Bennet2020 Dems unify around assault weapons ban, putting pressure on colleagues McConnell, Schumer tap colleagues to explore budget reform Democrats march toward single-payer health care MORE (D-Colo.) pressing President Obama to tackle entitlement reform.

Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrOvernight Cybersecurity: Zuckerberg breaks silence on Cambridge Analytica | Senators grill DHS chief on election security | Omnibus to include election cyber funds | Bill would create 'bug bounty' for State Omnibus to include election cybersecurity funds Overnight Cybersecurity: Senate Intel releases election security findings | Facebook to meet with officials on Capitol Hill amid Cambridge Analytica fallout | Orbitz admits possible breach 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 IsaksonKey Republicans back VA secretary as talk of firing escalates Frustrated Republicans accuse Paul of forcing pointless shutdown Budget deal is brimming with special tax breaks 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.