The Heritage Foundation, a powerful conservative think tank that played a significant role in shaping President Donald Trump’s Cabinet and tilting it far to the right, is expected to replace its leader, former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, a Tea Party favorite.
The anticipated shake-up, which was confirmed by two people with knowledge of the fraught internal dynamics, comes at an inopportune time for the group, with several major pieces of conservative legislation on the agenda in Congress. The budget, a tax overhaul and health-care reform are all issues that the Heritage Foundation has tried to influence, with varying degrees of success.
A spokesman for the foundation did not return a request for comment.
Last month’s failure of the Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act was a difficult test for Heritage and conservative groups like it, which have fought for years to gut the law. The foundation and its political arm, Heritage Action for America, pushed aggressively for a full repeal, which would have left none of the original 2010 law in place. That was farther than Trump and Republican congressional leaders wanted to go.
A likely candidate to take over, said one person with knowledge of the situation, is Ed Feulner, a former president of Heritage who has worked closely with the Trump administration.
Heritage, which rose to prominence during the Reagan Administration and remains a home for many Reagan-era aides like Edwin Meese, the former attorney general, has come to represent the hard-line, uncompromising vision for conservatism associated with the Tea Party movement and its leaders in Congress.
But its place in Trump’s Washington, where the currency of intellectual think tank conservatism is in a state of uncertainty, has been somewhat unclear as the power dynamics shake out.
DeMint’s apparent undoing was, in part, a reflection of the dissatisfaction of those inside the organization who thought Heritage was too much of a sideline player in the health-care debate.
According to one person familiar with the reasons behind his ouster, DeMint was blamed for not positioning Heritage to make a more effective and convincing case for a full health-care repeal. DeMint is highly compensated, earning more than $1 million in 2015 alone, according to tax documents.
Given that repealing Obamcare has been a central and defining issue for the group for the past seven years, its inability to be more influential with Congress was a major source of consternation for DeMint’s critics.
DeMint resigned as U.S. senator from South Carolina in in 2012, in part citing the allure of higher pay. The Greenville Republican had served one full term in the Senate and part of a second after several terms in the U.S. House.
Then-Gov. Nikki Haley appointed 1st District U.S. Rep. Tim Scott, R-Charleston, to DeMint’s seat, at the senator’s recommendation. Scott was elected to his own six-year term in 2014.