DeMint gave colleagues short notice

DeMint gave colleagues short notice

Republican senators were shocked to hear Thursday morning that Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a prominent Senate conservative, would retire at the end of the year.

DeMint said he would leave the Senate to take over as president of The Heritage Foundation in January, four years before his second Senate term is due to expire in 2016.

DeMint informed his staff of the decision Thursday morning and it caught many of them completely by surprise.

He called Senate Republican 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 (Ky.) at 9 a.m. with the news, about an hour before The Wall Street Journal broke the story to the public.

DeMint also gave a heads up to his colleague from South Carolina, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who later said he was so surprised, “I about fell off of my couch.”

“Everybody was really surprised,” said Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids Study: ObamaCare bills backed by Collins would lower premiums Right scrambles GOP budget strategy MORE (R-Maine).

DeMint announced his retirement to the editorial page of The Wall Journal’s editorial page. Daniel Henninger, the deputy editor of the editorial page, posted a story about it shortly after 10 a.m.

After DeMint spoke to his Senate staff, he crossed Massachusetts Avenue NW to meet with the staff of The Heritage Foundation, according to a source familiar with his day.

He and outgoing Heritage president Ed Feulner then did a radio interview with conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh.

“I believe that I can do more good for the conservative movement outside of the Senate in leveraging the assets of The Heritage Foundation to communicate a more positive, optimistic message to the American people,” DeMint told the host.

Reporters caught DeMint after his talk at Heritage, but he spoke to them only briefly.

At noon, Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidBill O'Reilly: Politics helped kill Kate Steinle, Zarate just pulled the trigger Tax reform is nightmare Déjà vu for Puerto Rico Ex-Obama and Reid staffers: McConnell would pretend to be busy to avoid meeting with Obama MORE (D-Nev.) told reporters that DeMint had personally informed him of his plans to retire early.

“Sen. DeMint came and talked to me just a short time ago, to tell me what he was going to do. I've read his book. He's read my book. We're friends,” Reid said.

“We spent a half hour within the past week talking about the Senate. At that time, I didn't know that he was considering leaving. I'm not sure that he'd made the decision at that time. I rather doubt it. But I've always liked the guy,” Reid said.

“And, even though I disagree with so much of what he's done, I appreciate — I personally believe he does this out of a sense of real belief, it's not political posturing for him, as it is for a lot of people,” he added.

DeMint had confirmed the story to Limbaugh.

"This may surprise you, but Harry Reid's a good friend of mine. I just walked into his office and talked to him," DeMint said.

"The problem is not Harry Reid. I think the problem is, as conservatives, we have not taken enough control of our message and our ideas and communicated them directly to the American people," he said.

DeMint voted for legislation to normalize trade relations with Russia and against a judicial nomination for the northern district of Florida before slipping into a Republican lunch in the Senate’s Lyndon Baines Johnson Room shortly after noon.

He dined at the same table as Sens. Bob Coker (R-Tenn.), Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoOvernight Regulation: Feds push to clarify regs on bump stocks | Interior wants Trump to shrink two more monuments | Navajo Nation sues over monument rollback | FCC won't delay net neutrality vote | Senate panel approves bill easing Dodd-Frank rules Overnight Finance: GOP delays work on funding bill amid conservative demands | Senate panel approves Fed nominee Powell | Dodd-Frank rollback advances | WH disputes report Mueller subpoenaed Trump bank records Senate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank MORE (R-Idaho), 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 retiring Sen. Dick Lugar (R), who lost the Senate Republican primary in Indiana to Richard Mourdock, a candidate DeMint backed in the general election.

He slipped out of the lunchroom through a back door, avoiding reporters who had assembled outside the Senate chamber until well past 2 p.m. to interview him.