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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 group targets Democrats with billboards around baseball stadium Warnock raises nearly M since January victory Five big takeaways on Georgia's new election law 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 McConnellTim Scott to deliver GOP response to Biden's speech to Congress GOP state attorneys general urge Biden, Congress not to expand Supreme Court The Memo: Washington's fake debate on 'bipartisanship' 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 CapitoWhite House sees GOP proposal as legitimate starting point Republicans unveil 8 billion infrastructure plan Senate GOP keeps symbolic earmark ban 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 attorneys general group in turmoil after Jan. 6 Trump rally Senate GOP keeps symbolic earmark ban St. Louis lawyer who pointed gun at Black Lives Matter protesters considering Senate run 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 CornynCornyn, Sinema unveil bill aimed at confronting border surge US Chamber of Commerce comes out in support of bipartisan, bicameral immigration bill GOP sees immigration as path to regain power 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 InhofeTop general concerned about Afghan forces after US troops leave Harris casts tiebreaking vote to advance Biden nominee The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - US vaccine effort takes hit with Johnson & Johnson pause 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 keeps symbolic earmark ban Biden dispatches Cabinet members to sell infrastructure plan Senate GOP faces post-Trump spending brawl 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 GrassleySenate locks in hate crimes deal, setting up Thursday passage Conservative House members call on Senate to oppose ATF nominee House votes to extend ban on fentanyl-like substances 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 CollinsHawley votes against anti-Asian hate crime bill Senate passes anti-Asian hate crimes bill Senate to vote next week on repealing Trump methane rule  MORE (R-Maine), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamUS Chamber of Commerce comes out in support of bipartisan, bicameral immigration bill Joe Lieberman to push senators on DC statehood GOP sees immigration as path to regain power MORE (R-S.C.) and Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoSenate GOP crafts outlines for infrastructure counter proposal Left-leaning group: SALT cap repeal would worsen racial income disparities On The Money: Inflation rears its head amid spending debate | IRS chief warns of unpaid taxes hitting T | Restaurants fret labor shortage 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 RischSenate panel greenlights sweeping China policy bill Pompeo joins GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill to introduce Iran sanctions act GOP lawmakers block Biden assistance to Palestinians MORE (R-Idaho) and Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsSenate GOP faces retirement brain drain Roy Blunt won't run for Senate seat in 2022 Lobbying world 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) MenendezBiden rebuffs Democrats, keeps refugee admissions at 15,000 Bottom line The Memo: Biden's five biggest foreign policy challenges 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 Franken#MeWho? The hypocritical silence of Kamala Harris The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate Dems face unity test; Tanden nomination falls Gillibrand: Cuomo allegations 'completely unacceptable' MORE (D-Minn.), who ultimately resigned facing several allegations of sexual misconduct and unwanted touching.

McConnell also predicted in 2017 that Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings Trump faces test of power with early endorsements CPAC, all-in for Trump, is not what it used to be 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 ThuneGOP sees immigration as path to regain power Senate GOP keeps symbolic earmark ban Senate GOP crafts outlines for infrastructure counter proposal 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 opens door to earmarks Arkansas governor quietly bucking GOP's dive into culture wars Trump allies line up ahead of potentially bruising primaries 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?”