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 IsaksonTrump and Biden tied in Georgia: poll Biden campaign staffs up in Georgia Doug Collins questions Loeffler's trustworthiness in first TV ad 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 McConnellGOP scrambles to fend off Kobach in Kansas primary Meadows: Election will be held on November third Don't let Trump distract us from the real threat of his presidency 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 CapitoFormer VA staffer charged with giving seven patients fatal insulin doses Senate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick Republicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names 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 BluntFrustration builds as negotiators struggle to reach COVID-19 deal Pelosi to require masks on House floor GOP, Democratic relief packages B apart on vaccine funding 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 CornynFrustration builds as negotiators struggle to reach COVID-19 deal Chamber of Commerce endorses Ernst for reelection Mini-exodus of Trump officials from Commerce to lobby on semiconductors 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 InhofeControversial Trump nominee placed in senior role after nomination hearing canceled Chamber of Commerce endorses Ernst for reelection The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - At loggerheads, Congress, White House to let jobless payout lapse 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 ShelbySenate GOP opens door to smaller coronavirus deal as talks lag Overnight Defense: Senate GOP coronavirus bill includes .4B for Pentagon | US, Australia focus on China in key meeting McConnell wants FBI money out of coronavirus bill 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 GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyRepublicans dismiss Trump proposal to delay election Timeline for GOP's Obama probe report slips as chairman eyes subpoenas GOP hunts for 'Plan B' as coronavirus talks hit wall 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 CollinsOn The Trail: The first signs of a post-Trump GOP Frustration builds as negotiators struggle to reach COVID-19 deal Shaheen, Chabot call for action on new round of PPP loans MORE (R-Maine), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamNavarro: 'Don't fall for' message from TikTok lobbyists, 'puppet CEO' Graham defends Trump on TikTok, backs Microsoft purchase The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - At loggerheads, Congress, White House to let jobless payout lapse MORE (R-S.C.) and Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoChamber of Commerce, banking industry groups call on Senate to pass corporate diversity bill Senate panel advances Trump Fed nominee who recently supported gold standard Senate panel to vote on controversial Trump Fed pick Shelton 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 RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischSenators blast Turkey's move to convert Hagia Sophia back into a mosque Progressive group backs Democratic challenger to Sen. Risch Republicans start bracing for shutdown fight in run-up to election MORE (R-Idaho) and Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsGOP scrambles to fend off Kobach in Kansas primary Senate GOP opens door to smaller coronavirus deal as talks lag GOP group books ads for Kansas Senate primary 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) MenendezVOA visa decision could hobble Venezuela coverage Bottom line Koch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads 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 FrankenCNN publishes first Al Franken op-ed since resignation Political world mourns loss of comedian Jerry Stiller Maher to Tara Reade on timing of sexual assault allegation: 'Why wait until Biden is our only hope?' MORE (D-Minn.), who ultimately resigned facing several allegations of sexual misconduct and unwanted touching.

McConnell also predicted in 2017 that Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreSessions hits back at Trump days ahead of Alabama Senate runoff Judge allows Roy Moore lawsuit over Sacha Baron Cohen prank to proceed Senate outlook slides for GOP 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 ThuneFrustration builds as negotiators struggle to reach COVID-19 deal Unemployment benefits to expire as coronavirus talks deadlock McConnell tees up showdown on unemployment benefits 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 BoozmanSenate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick The Hill's Coronavirus Report: San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus Artistic Director Tim Seelig says choirs are dangerous; Pence says, 'We have saved lives' 7 GOP senators slam State Dept for 'slow and inefficient policy' on passports 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?”