Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrDemocratic incumbents bolster fundraising advantage in key Senate races McConnell gets GOP wake-up call Senate approves short-term debt ceiling increase MORE (R-N.C.) has been appointed to the powerful Senate Finance Committee in a move some conservatives see as a snub to Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).
Burr previously said he didn’t want to change his panel assignments, and Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP blocks Senate Democrats' revised elections bill A politicized Supreme Court? That was the point The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Democrats optimistic after Biden meetings MORE’s (Ky.) decision to award him the plum position was interpreted by some as a brush-off of DeMint, one of the founders of the Senate Tea Party Caucus, who has clashed with McConnell in the past.
The North Carolina Republican will fill the seat left vacant by former Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), who resigned May 3.
His appointment is a surprise because he did not seem interested in the opening.
“Oh gosh, I’ve got all the stuff I can stand,” the two-term lawmaker told The Hill when asked last week whether he was interested in the spot.
Burr’s spokeswoman said last month: “Sen. Burr has no interest in changing his committee assignments.”
The new post will require Burr to leave his senior spot on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He ranks second on the Energy panel after Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate will vote on John Lewis voting bill as soon as next week Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — FDA moves to sell hearing aids over-the-counter Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the American Petroleum Institute — Manchin, Tester voice opposition to carbon tax MORE (R-Alaska) and would have become the senior Republican once she reached her term limit.
If Burr had passed on the seat, DeMint, who chairs the conservative Senate Republican Steering Committee, would have been next in line in seniority to take the Finance post.
McConnell would have been under pressure to tap DeMint because it would have appeared an obvious snub of the Tea Party favorite to pass him over in favor of junior lawmakers such as Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her MORE (R-Tenn.) or Mike JohannsMichael (Mike) Owen JohannsMeet the Democratic sleeper candidate gunning for Senate in Nebraska Farmers, tax incentives can ease the pain of a smaller farm bill Lobbying World MORE (R-Neb.), who also wanted the seat.
Conservative activists were pulling for DeMint.
“It’s frustrating that DeMint did not get that seat,” said Andrew Roth, vice president of government affairs at the Club for Growth, a group that advocates for lower taxes and a smaller federal government.
“A lot of conservatives in the Beltway know McConnell is not a fan of DeMint, so it’s suspicious that Burr didn’t want it but now he does,” Roth said of the open Finance seat. “Burr did have seniority, so it’s hard to gripe too much.”
Roth said McConnell should appoint DeMint to the committee when Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), a member of the panel, retires at the end of next year.
Burr told The Hill on Wednesday that McConnell did not recruit him to pursue the Finance seat. He said he expressed an early interest in the coveted post and didn’t want his ambition reported in the press.
“It allows me to expand my healthcare interest outside of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee,” Burr said.
“I expressed an interest and this is just how it played out,” he added. “I expressed an interest early on and I’m pleased with the decision.”
DeMint and McConnell met early last week to discuss the open seat.
“I’m disappointed, but this was the leader’s decision and I’ll respect it,” DeMint said in a statement. “The policy issues before the committee are very important to the future of our country and I will continue to work on them even though I’m not a member of the committee. While I was not chosen this time, I am deeply grateful to the thousands of conservative activists across the country who supported me.”
Some Senate Republican aides thought DeMint was next in line because Burr appeared to have passed on the plum assignment.
But others questioned whether McConnell would reward DeMint, with whom he has disagreed in the past.
DeMint put pressure on McConnell in the 111th Congress to endorse a moratorium on earmarks, which the leader, a longtime member of the Appropriations Committee, initially resisted.
DeMint also took the unusual step of endorsing Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulVaccine 'resisters' are a real problem Democrats fret as longshot candidates pull money, attention Journalist Dave Levinthal discusses 'uptick' in congressional stock trade violations MORE (R-Ky.) in the 2010 Kentucky Republican primary even though McConnell had publicly backed former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson. Senate observers said it was a breach of Senate protocol.
Doling out committee assignments is one of the biggest power perks of the Senate Republican leader, who has the authority to appoint the odd-numbered openings on panels.
McConnell had the power to fill Ensign’s seat. If there were two openings on Finance, the second slot would have been filled on the basis of seniority within the GOP conference.
Of all the senators who were in the mix for the position, Burr had the most seniority because he also served 10 years in the House.
DeMint was next on the list. He was sworn in the same year as Burr but only served six years in the House.
Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonHerschel Walker calls off fundraiser with woman who had swastika in Twitter profile Georgia reporter says state will 'continue to be a premier battleground' Critical race theory becomes focus of midterms MORE (R-Ga.), who had the next most seniority, took himself out of the running because he sits on the Select Committee on Ethics, which was investigating Ensign at the time of his resignation.
Newly minted Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerNevada becomes early Senate battleground Nevada governor Sisolak injured in car accident, released from hospital Democrats brace for tough election year in Nevada MORE (R-Nev.) will take Burr’s spot on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
-- This post was originally published at 1:44 p.m. and updated at 8:50 p.m.