Former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint has been forced out as president of The Heritage Foundation, the conservative Washington think tank he left his Senate seat to head four years ago.
The Greenville native's hiring was a bit of a surprise at the time, considering his background as a politician and the foundation’s bent toward policy before politics.
In the end, that may have been his undoing.
DeMint met with the organization’s board of directors behind closed doors on Tuesday, though his ouster has reportedly been in the works since late last week, according to Politico and other news organizations.
The Heritage Foundation released a statement Tuesday afternoon from board chairman Thomas A. Saunders III.
"After a comprehensive and independent review of the entire Heritage organization, the Board determined there were significant and worsening management issues that led to a breakdown of internal communications and cooperation. While the organization has seen many successes, Jim DeMint and a handful of his closest advisers failed to resolve these problems."
Saunders said he endorsed the change and said the foundation would remain committed to conservative values like free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values and a strong national defense.
With DeMint as president, Heritage has been involved in shaping legislation for healthcare reform, the budget and tax overhaul. His ouster comes on the heels of a failed attempt to repeal and replace of Obamacare in March and amid internal conflict with board members and the foundation’s lobbying arm, Heritage Action, according to The New York Times and Politico, which first reported the story.
On Monday amid reports of his impending ouster, dozens of members of Congress signed a letter written to DeMint thanking him for his leadership.
“As you prepare to take the next step in your fateful, courageous career, we applaud and thank you for being our leader, our friend and our champion,” read the letter, which included the signatures of two South Carolina congressmen, U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, a Republican from Laurens, and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, who former Gov. Nikki Haley named to fill DeMint’s seat. In all, 48 members of Congress signed the letter.
In Greenville on Monday, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said he hadn’t yet seen the letter and didn’t know what led to DeMint’s ouster.
"Jim’s a dear friend," Graham said. "That caught me by surprise. I think he has done a good job, but I don’t know what that is all about. I guess we’ll know more in a few days.”
DeMint’s departure would open speculation about the future political ambitions of the staunch conservative and Tea Party leader.
DeMint was elected to the U.S. House in 1999 and represented the 4th Congressional District until 2005. He was elected to the Senate in November 2004, taking over the seat vacated by longtime senator Ernest F. Hollings.
He was re-elected in 2010 and resigned part way through his term to become president of The Heritage Foundation.
Ed Feulner, a Heritage board member who helped launch the foundation in 1973 and ran it as president until 2013 was named as interim president, according to the foundation.