The job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal'

A prime chairmanship is poised to come open in the Senate next year. The problem? No GOP senators seem to want it. 

Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonCritical race theory becomes focus of midterms Former Georgia ethics official to challenge McBath Loeffler meets with McConnell amid speculation of another Senate run MORE (R-Ga.) is set to retire in approximately a month, creating an opening atop the Senate Ethics Committee, a behind-the-scenes panel responsible for enforcing standards of behavior for senators and their staffs and investigating potential violations of federal law or the Senate’s rules. 

Isakson, who has chaired the committee for nearly five years, told The Hill that he doesn’t know who his successor will be but encouraged his colleagues to accept the chairmanship if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire MORE (R-Ky.) asks them. 

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“It’s an honor to do it, and if asked, they ought to,” he said. 

But GOP senators who spoke with The Hill, including current members of the committee, had a nearly universal response when asked if they wanted to take over the Ethics Committee: Thanks, but no thanks. 

“Uh, I’m going to say probably not,” said Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoBiden to return to pre-Obama water protections in first step for clean water regulations The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators MORE (R-W.Va.), a member of GOP leadership, laughing when asked if she would like to chair the committee. “I don’t think that’s a sought-after position.” 

The lack of enthusiasm comes as the normally secretive committee has had high-profile investigations in recent years, putting a spotlight on why finding Isakson's successor could prove difficult: No one relishes investigating their colleagues. 

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge Former Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon passes on Senate campaign MORE (R-Mo.), another member of leadership, said he doesn’t know who will take over the committee. Asked if he was interested, he answered with an emphatic, drawn out “nooooo.” 

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Biden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on MORE (R-Texas), who previously served as vice chairman, acknowledged that it’s up to the leader but said he’s not interested. 

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“I served my time on the Ethics Committee, and I think I’ll give somebody else the opportunity,” he said. 

The decision about who will lead the committee rests with McConnell, who previously tapped Isakson to take over as chairman when Republicans took back the majority in 2015. 

A GOP aide said conversations had not yet started about who will succeed Isakson, who announced that he would step down at the end of December due to ongoing health issues. 

Several Republicans who currently oversee other committees also indicated they had no interest in taking on Ethics.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeGillibrand expects vote on military justice bill in fall The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Biden backs Cuban protesters, assails 'authoritarian regime' Trump getting tougher for Senate GOP to ignore MORE (R-Okla.) said he would rather undergo a dental procedure. 

“Are you kidding? Are you kidding? I’d rather have a root canal,” he said. 

Asked if he wanted to take over the committee, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge Senate passes .1 billion Capitol security bill Democrats ramp up pressure for infrastructure deal amid time crunch MORE (R-Ala.) responded, “Oh no, no, no, but I’m sure that the leadership will put somebody in there that’s solid, good, substantive person. I like what I’m doing.” 

“I would like to stay as chairman of the Appropriations Committee,” Shelby continued before cupping his hand over his mouth and adding, “So would most of the other senators.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators MORE (R-Iowa) started laughing when asked if he was interested in chairing the Ethics Committee, saying, “Absolutely not. Absolutely not.” 

Grassley noted that he’s currently the chairman of the Finance Committee. When told that Isakson chairs two committees, Grassley remarked, “He does? Well, don’t tell anybody else that.” 

Isakson is the only GOP senator to oversee two panels: Ethics and Veterans Affairs. 

Veterans Affairs, unlike Appropriations, Armed Services and Finance, also isn’t considered an “A” committee under Senate GOP caucus rules.

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Ethics also isn't considered a "standing" committee under the chamber's rules, a technical designation that places fewer restrictions on who leadership can pick for the role while still complying with Senate GOP caucus rules.

Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSunday shows preview: Delta concerns prompt CDC mask update; bipartisan infrastructure bill to face challenges in Senate Top Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure Bill would honor Ginsburg, O'Connor with statues at Capitol MORE (R-Maine), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham, Cuellar press Biden to name border czar Trump takes two punches from GOP The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands MORE (R-S.C.) and Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators The 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill MORE (R-Idaho) — who oversee the Aging, Judiciary and Banking committees, respectively — also passed on taking over the Ethics gavel. 

The panel, unlike most Senate committees, is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, who have three members each. 

The two other GOP members, Sens. Jim RischJim Elroy RischTracy Stone-Manning's confirmation treatment was simply unacceptable — and it must stop The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill MORE (R-Idaho) and Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsBob Dole, Pat Roberts endorse Kansas AG Derek Schmidt for governor Ex-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain MORE (R-Kansas), would on paper be obvious potential successors for Isakson. Neither, however, seemed particularly interested. 

Roberts, who is retiring at the end of 2020, said it was up to McConnell. Asked if he wanted to be the chairman, he noted that he was likely stuck on the committee either way. 

“I’ve been on the damn committee for now, what, 22 years? It’s a Senate record. Everybody else gets on and gets off, and they won’t let me get off,” he said before heading into an elevator. 

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Risch, asked if he wanted to be the next chairman, was more direct, saying, “I can only tell you that I sure hope not.” 

The Ethics Committee normally flies under the radar. According to its annual 2018 report, released in January of this year, the committee received 138 allegations of Senate rules violations. It opened a preliminary inquiry into 16 of those allegations. 

But its job as the chamber’s own watchdog also puts its members in the middle of high-profile scandals involving their own colleagues. 

In 2018, the panel made headlines when it “severely admonished” Sen. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezLobbying world This week: Congress starts summer sprint The Innovation and Competition Act is progressive policy MORE (D-N.J.) in a public letter, saying he had broken Senate rules, federal law and "applicable standards of conduct."  

It was the first time the committee had publicly admonished a senator since 2012.

Isakson acknowledged that chairing the committee can at times be awkward because you’re responsible for investigating colleagues or their staffs you have to work with on a day-to-day basis. 

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“Well, sometimes you’re asked to do things you’d rather not have to do because you’re dealing with your colleagues,” he said. 

For example, in 2017, the panel opened an investigation into then-Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenCould Andrew Cuomo — despite scandals — be re-elected because of Trump? Al Franken to launch 15-stop comedy tour Democrats, GOP face crowded primaries as party leaders lose control MORE (D-Minn.), who ultimately resigned facing several allegations of sexual misconduct and unwanted touching.

McConnell also predicted in 2017 that Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreRoy Moore loses lawsuit against Sacha Baron Cohen Shelby backs ex-aide over Trump-favored candidate in Alabama Senate race Of inmates and asylums: Today's House Republicans make the John Birchers look quaint MORE, then the party’s Senate candidate in Alabama, would automatically become entangled with the panel if he won the seat because of multiple allegations of pursuing relationships with women in their teens when he was in his 30s.

It’s the sort of responsibility for internal policing that makes a volunteer stepping forward to lead the panel starting in January unlikely. 

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Senators say they have deal on 'major issues' in infrastructure talks MORE (R-S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator, acknowledged they haven’t found someone to succeed Isakson. He then spotted Sen. John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanTrump getting tougher for Senate GOP to ignore Former NFL player challenging Boozman in Arkansas GOP primary Senate GOP opens door to earmarks MORE (R-Ark.), who played football in college, waiting for an elevator behind him and eagerly changed the subject. 

“Boozman!” he said before turning back to reporters. “Have you seen his football pose?”