DeMint eyes Senate Finance Committee seat vacated by tarnished Ensign

Georgia Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson pulled his name from contention on Wednesday for an opening on the Senate Finance Committee, a seat conservative Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) reportedly desires. 

Isakson called Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) saying he doesn't want to be considered for the vacancy created by the resignation of Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) to avoid a conflict of interest because of his role on the Ethics Committee, an aide told The Hill. 

Isakson, who is vice chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, was one of the leaders of the 22-month investigation into Ensign's conduct during an affair with a former staffer, who was the wife of a top aide to the senator.

The Senate probe forced the embattled Nevada Republican to step down last Thursday, with his resignation effective May 3. 

That leaves the spot up for grabs. 

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who has carved out his own conservative path as a founding member of the Senate Tea Party Caucus and is seen as one of the populist movement’s leaders in Congress, is "very interested" in the spot, an aide told The Hill. 

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who has more seniority than DeMint and is ranking member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, has said he isn't interested in the Finance spot. 

DeMint will need the backing of McConnell, who will decide who will fill the slot on the panel that has jurisdiction over trade, taxes, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

"Senator DeMint is very interested in serving on the Finance Committee and has requested it every time since he was elected," DeMint's spokeman Wesley Denton told The Hill in an email. "This is where the big policy battles are taking place that will determine the future of our country. This is where entitlement reform will be written to balance the budget, it's where Obamacare will be repealed, and it's where our tax laws will be reformed to ensure that America remains the best place in the world to do business."

A possible hurdle is DeMint's willingness to challenging his party's leadership. Late last year, he pressed so hard on an earmark ban that, eventually, McConnell agreed to stop the practice. 

"He understands the seat will be filled by the Republican Leader and Sen. DeMint will respect his decision," Denton said.

Still, DeMint's status has risen with several new freshmen members in place to back his core ideas, which could give McConnell reason to appoint the South Carolina Republican to the seat.

In the decision-making process, which is up to McConnell, the Senate Republican leader could pay heed to seniority rankings and appoint DeMint or choose someone else. 

Traditionally, the Senate Republican conference uses seniority to determine committee assignments but McConnell has shown he's willing to buck that policy.