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 IsaksonLoeffler traded .4M in stocks as Congress responded to coronavirus pandemic Loeffler under fire for stock trades amid coronavirus outbreak The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden riding wave of momentum after stunning Super Tuesday 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 McConnellOvernight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill On The Money: Economy sheds 701K jobs in March | Why unemployment checks could take weeks | Confusion surrounds 9B in small-business loans 13 things to know for today about coronavirus 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 CapitoState Department under fire as 13K Americans remain stranded abroad Senators balance coronavirus action with risks to health Heidi Klum says she tried to get a coronavirus test: 'I just can't get one' 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 BluntGOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus Five things being discussed for a new coronavirus relief bill Hillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike 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 CornynGOP senator: National shelter-in-place order would be an 'overreaction' Lawmakers already planning more coronavirus stimulus after T package Cuban says he'd spank daughter if she was partying during coronavirus pandemic 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 InhofeGOP senators urge Saudi Arabia to leave OPEC Overnight Defense: Stimulus bill has .5B for Pentagon | Money would be blocked from border wall | Esper orders 60-day freeze for overseas troop movements Senate panel switches to 'paper hearings' amid coronavirus pandemic 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 ShelbyFive things being discussed for a new coronavirus relief bill Infrastructure bill gains new steam as coronavirus worsens Coronavirus bill includes more than billion in SNAP funding 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 GrassleyLawmakers press IRS to get coronavirus checks to seniors Pelosi floats undoing SALT deduction cap in next coronavirus bill Democrats eye additional relief checks for coronavirus 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 CollinsGOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus GOP presses for swift Ratcliffe confirmation to intel post Campaigns pivot toward health awareness as races sidelined by coronavirus MORE (R-Maine), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham asks colleagues to support call for China to close wet markets Justice IG pours fuel on looming fight over FISA court Trump says he's considering restricting travel to coronavirus 'hot spots' MORE (R-S.C.) and Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoLobbying blitz yields wins for airlines, corporations, banks, unions Stimulus empowers Treasury to rescue airlines with billion in direct assistance White House, Senate reach deal on trillion stimulus package 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 RischTensions boil over on Senate floor amid coronavirus debate  Overnight Defense: Pentagon confirms Iran behind recent rocket attack | Esper says 'all options on the table' | Military restricts service member travel over coronavirus Graham warns of 'aggressive' response to Iran-backed rocket attack that killed US troops MORE (R-Idaho) and Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsCoronavirus stimulus talks hit setback as crisis deepens Garth Brooks accepts Library of Congress's Gershwin Prize for Popular Song GOP, Democrats hash out 2020 strategy at dueling retreats 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) MenendezHillicon Valley: Facebook launches portal for coronavirus information | EU sees spike in Russian misinformation on outbreak | Senate Dem bill would encourage mail-in voting | Lawmakers question safety of Google virus website Democratic senators press Google over privacy of coronavirus screening site Menendez calls for 'Marie Yovanovitch bill' to protect foreign service employees 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 FrankenAl Franken blasts Susan Collins: She'll let Trump 'get away with anything' Bill Press: Don't forget about Amy Key moments in the 2020 Democratic presidential race so far 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 to advise Louisiana pastor arrested for allegedly defying ban on large gatherings Trump endorses Tuberville over Sessions in Alabama Senate runoff Sessions to face Tuberville in Alabama GOP Senate runoff 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 ThuneTrump's magical thinking won't stop the coronavirus pandemic Lawmakers brace for more coronavirus legislation after trillion bill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Senate overcomes hurdles, passes massive coronavirus bill 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 BoozmanOn The Money: Stocks have worst week in a decade on coronavirus fears | Fed chief hints at rate cut | Trump pushes central bank for action | Kudlow advises investors to 'think about buying the dip' Republicans growing nervous about 2020 economy Overnight Defense: Pentagon policy chief resigns at Trump's request | Trump wishes official 'well in his future endeavors' | Armed Services chair warns against Africa drawdown after trip 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?”