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 IsaksonThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Job growth soars in November The Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats worry about diversity on next debate stage Doug Collins on potential 2020 Senate run: I'm not 'ruling it out' 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 McConnellKey House and Senate health leaders reach deal to stop surprise medical bills Biden: 'No party should have too much power' Overnight Energy: Pelosi vows bold action to counter 'existential' climate threat | Trump jokes new light bulbs don't make him look as good | 'Forever chemicals' measure pulled from defense bill 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 CapitoGOP senators unveil bill to expand 'opportunity zone' reporting requirements ICE emerges as stumbling block in government funding talks Congress braces for chaotic December 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 BluntTrump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans Overnight Defense: Trump cancels presser, cuts short NATO trip | Viral video catches leaders appearing to gossip about Trump | Dem witnesses say Trump committed impeachable offenses | Trump reportedly mulling more troops in Middle East Trump legal team gears up for Senate impeachment trial in meeting with GOP senators 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 CornynTrump, GOP shift focus from alleged surveillance abuse to Durham Russia probe Hillicon Valley: FTC rules Cambridge Analytica engaged in 'deceptive practices' | NATO researchers warn social media failing to remove fake accounts | Sanders calls for breaking up Comcast, Verizon Bipartisan senators call on FERC to protect against Huawei threats 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 InhofeOvernight Defense: Trump leaves door open to possible troop increase in Middle East | Putin offers immediate extension of key nuclear treaty Trump leaves door open to possible troop increase in Middle East Pentagon official: 'Possible' more US troops could be deployed to Middle East 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 ShelbyDemocrats open door to repealing ObamaCare tax in spending talks On The Money: Economy adds 266K jobs in strong November | Lawmakers sprint to avoid shutdown | Appropriators to hold crucial talks this weekend | Trump asks Supreme Court to halt Deutsche Bank subpoenas Appropriators face crucial weekend to reach deal 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 GrassleyOvernight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson – House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill | McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug pricing bill | Lawmakers close to deal on surprise medical bills GOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties Congressional leaders unite to fight for better future for America's children and families 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 CollinsHere are the Senate Republicans who could vote to convict Trump Giffords, Demand Justice to pressure GOP senators to reject Trump judicial pick Senate confirms eight Trump court picks in three days MORE (R-Maine), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham expects Horowitz investigation to show evidence was manipulated, withheld Trump's exceptionalism: No president has so disrespected our exceptional institutions Trump, GOP shift focus from alleged surveillance abuse to Durham Russia probe MORE (R-S.C.) and Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoThe job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal' Lawmakers battle over future of Ex-Im Bank Eleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid 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 RischHillicon Valley: FTC rules Cambridge Analytica engaged in 'deceptive practices' | NATO researchers warn social media failing to remove fake accounts | Sanders calls for breaking up Comcast, Verizon Bipartisan senators call on FERC to protect against Huawei threats Senate panel to vote on Turkey sanctions next week MORE (R-Idaho) and Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsThe Hill's Morning Report - Intel panel readies to hand off impeachment baton The job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal' The Hill's Morning Report — House set for Phase 3 of impeachment push 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) MenendezForeign Relations Democrat calls on Iran to release other American prisoners GOP senator blocks Armenian genocide resolution The job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal' 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 FrankenThe job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal' Take Trump literally and seriously in Minnesota Ninth woman accuses Al Franken of inappropriate contact 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 job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal' Former AG Sessions enters Alabama Senate race Campaign ad casts Sessions as a 'traitor' ahead of expected Senate run 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 ThuneCongress races to beat deadline on shutdown Hillicon Valley: House passes anti-robocall bill | Senators inch forward on privacy legislation | Trump escalates fight over tech tax | Illinois families sue TikTok | Senators get classified briefing on ransomware Senators inch forward on federal privacy 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 BoozmanThe job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal' Eleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid VA chief pressed on efforts to prevent veteran suicides 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?”