Interview with Senator Jim DeMint

Interview with Senator Jim DeMint

By John King, USA - November 3, 2010

KING: More debate and discussion just ahead, but first, let's take a close look at just how dramatically American politics changed overnight. If you look closely at the map here, this was the map coming into last night's election. The blue is Democratic House seats coast to coast. The red, Republican House seats coast to coast. This is where we started, this is where we ended.

Look at all that red, especially out in Middle America as we head west. Boom, that's last night. That's before, and that is after. Now that's the House. Let's move on to the Senate races. We began the night with these 37 Senate races on the ballot. Look at all this blue right up in here. Now watch what happened.

That's where we end. Huge Republican gains especially across the heartland right here -- Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and over and the governorships, big, big stakes in the governorships implementing health care, 2012 politics. Look at all that blue, especially again across the Rust Belt, the industrial heartland and look at all that red now. A dramatic shift as you head into 2012, Republicans will control Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and on and on we go.

And these states matter not only because of their role in presidential politics, but there are Democratic incumbent senators up in 2012 in Florida, in Pennsylvania, in Ohio, in Michigan, in Wisconsin, in Minnesota, out in Montana and beyond. Here in Missouri as well. One conservative who worked tirelessly to help reshape this map is Senator Jim DeMint. South Carolina voters just gave him another six years to be a thorn in the side of liberals, and occasionally, his own Republican Party's establishment.

After what he calls an earthquake election and the biggest Tea Party to date, DeMint will have more like-minded colleagues in the Senate. He joins us now from Greenville. Senator DeMint, a question first on what comes ahead. Many have said now that the Republicans have a majority in the House, more conservatives in the Senate, where will we know -- when will we know if you're serious about keeping your promises about spending and the debt. If there is a vote in the Congress on raising the debt ceiling so that the government can continue to print money and spend money, should Republicans say no?

SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think Republicans will say no. Unless that raising of the debt ceiling is accompanied by some dramatic spending cuts, something that would direct us towards a balanced budget in the future, Republicans will not support an increase in the debt limit. What I hope you'll see from Republicans right out of the box, as soon as we get back, is a moratorium on earmarks.

Americans have connected the dots. They realize if we're all up there trying to bring home the bacon, we're going to bankrupt our country and if Republicans in the House and the Senate both take a pledge to not ask for earmarks and to have a moratorium on them in the Congress I think it will show Americans, at least at the beginning, that we're serious. So there are a number of other things we need to do to demonstrate that we're serious and one of those is to defund Obama care. And as soon as we can, hopefully have a vote on balancing the budget.

KING: With a Democratic majority in the Senate, though, do you have a prayer at defunding Obama care? Yes, you have a big majority in the House now, but you have Democrats still controlling the Senate, narrowly, but they're still in charge and the president has a veto pen. How can you defund the health care bill?

DEMINT: Well we don't have to defund it; we just have to not pass the funding for it. The majority in the House can control our appropriation bills. And we can just not include in those appropriation bills the funding for the implementation of Obama care. The president may fight us on it and it could be a very tense showdown, but Republicans are in a position now to make sure no funding goes forward for Obama care.

KING: Do you think that will happen? Because you, clearly, there are trust issues both ways in your relationship with your own Republican Party. I want to read something. This is what you wrote in "The Wall Street Journal" today reflecting on this election.

"Tea Party Republicans were elected to go to Washington and save the country, not to be co-opted by the club. So put on your boxing gloves. The fight begins today." Senator DeMint, sounds like you don't trust your own leadership to keep its campaign promises.

DEMINT: Well, there's a Washington establishment that's much bigger than any of us in the Congress. It includes the media, the lobby community. It's a system that pushes us to spend more. Every time we say no, we have people complaining. That's why after several years in Congress most people start voting for more spending, more borrowing, and more debt.

We've got to change those ways. I think everyone who campaigned in one as Republicans this time understands that we've got to do what we promised. And that means less spending, less borrowing, less debt. So I think you're going to the see a new Republican Party that will re-earn the trust of the American people.

KING: Let's talk about your role in this campaign, because it was controversial at times. You backed some big winners, including getting involved in some primary campaigns that upset the Republican establishment. You backed Mike Lee in Utah, he won, Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, he won, Marco Rubio in Florida, he won, Rand Paul in Kentucky won, and Ron Johnson in Wisconsin won.

But candidates you backed who lost included Sharron Angle in Nevada, Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, John Raese in West Virginia, and Ken Buck in Colorado. I want to focus for a moment on Sharron Angle, Christine O'Donnell, and Ken Buck. And Senator, this is I want to do this. I want to come up here on the map and come over here to the Senate balance of power.

This is where we began the night. I want to come now to where we ended the night right here. This is where we are at the moment -- Washington State, the only uncalled Senate race. Too close to call. The Democrats have 52, the Republicans have 47. Here Senator DeMint is what a lot of your friends say. That if you had not backed Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, that Mike Castle would have won that race, if he had won the Republican primary.

And that that one would be a Republican. That if you had not gotten involved in the state of Nevada and anybody but Sharron Angle had won the Republican nomination, the Republicans would have won that state and that would have gone over that way, and that if Jane Norton had won the Republican primary, not the Tea Party candidate you backed, Ken Buck, that that seat they believe would have been in Republican hands.

That would have been 50 to 49 for the Republicans with Washington State still in the balance. Many of your fellow Republicans, Senator DeMint, suggests perhaps your activities cost them a chance at the majority.

DEMINT: Well, I haven't heard that from any of my colleagues out here --

KING: Trust me --


KING: Trust me they're emailing -- they and their staffs are e- mailing around grumbling about this.

DEMINT: Well, they're all unnamed. But I didn't get involved in the primary in Nevada. The people in Nevada picked Sharron Angle to be their Republican nominee. But just like every Republican who was nominated, I worked as hard as I could to get them elected. And I'm glad some of my colleagues think I have the power to come in a few days before the primary of Christine O'Donnell and make a difference in that race, but she won by six points and she was going to win whether I was involved or not.

I worked to elect Republicans all over the country. Anyone who says that the Tea Party was detrimental is so completely out of touch that they represent the problem in Washington. The Republicans won victories from the local levels, state level to federal level, historic victories. And it was because of the activism led by Tea Parties all over the country, and of course, we didn't win them all, but we won a lot more than any party has won in many, many decades.

KING: Let me ask you, lastly. How does Jim DeMint go forward from this campaign? What did you learn in this campaign that you'll apply come 2012? And I ask this specifically -- excuse me -- in the context many of your fellow Republican senators are now concerned that you will support challenges to Olympia Snowe, moderate Republican from Maine.

I was told today by somebody close to you, look for a challenge to Bob Corker, the Republican senator in Tennessee. And Orrin Hatch, his colleague Bob Bennett, of course lost to a Tea Party candidate Utah, the nomination there and he already seems a bit nervous he may face a challenge. Would you support Republican challenges to any of those Republican senators in 2012?

DEMINT: Well, I have no intentions, at this point, of having -- supporting primary challengers to any of my colleagues. I think you may see primary challenges if our colleagues don't do what we've promised as Republicans. And that's to support constitutional limited government.

I didn't recruit any primary challengers this time and -- but the people, I believe, will help us make those decisions. And you know I've heard that rumor that I'm going to put incumbents up in primaries, but folks are just trying to do that to marginalize what the Tea Parties have done for the Republican Party.

What we need to realize is that the Republicans embrace the energy and the ideals of the Tea Party movement across the country, that we will have a big tent that will help us turn our country away from economic disaster. We've got 40 percent of the people who call themselves Tea Party members, who are Democrats and Independents. And they're saying they want less government, less spending and less debt.

That's what Republicans are all about. So there's no reason for there to be any disunity in the Republican Party. I think you're going to see a Republican Party that's bold and more unified than we've seen in years. I look forward to working with our leadership team. I have no plan to challenge any of our incumbents. But the Senate conservatives fight (ph) will continue to help identify conservative challengers out across the country and give Americans a chance to help those challengers win elections like we did this year.

KING: I want you to listen to one of your current colleagues in the United States Senate, Lisa Murkowski, who may well be back as a future colleague in the Republican Caucus. Joe Miller, of course, beat her in the primary. She ran as a write-in candidate. We don't know the results in Alaska yet. But there is a growing sense that perhaps she will come back. Your conservative fund, as you just noted, supported Joe Miller. Lisa Murkowski didn't like it. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: The fact that Jim DeMint from South Carolina is playing in this race in Alaska, I think Alaskans are looking at that and saying, you know what, this is our state. This is our race. We will be the ones who chooses who will represent us in Washington, D.C.


KING: If Lisa Murkowski comes back to the Senate as a Republican next year, can I be invited to the first Tuesday lunch to watch how that one goes down?

DEMINT: Yes, we'll have some making up to do, but that's another primary I wasn't involved in. I had nothing to do with Joe Miller winning the primary. But once he became the Republican nominee, I gave him 100 percent of my support, which I think every Republican should have done. So Lisa had been a friend of mine, again, we have some making up to do I'm sure if she comes back, but I'm still hopeful Joe Miller will pull off a miracle there in Alaska.

KING: Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, a growing power in the conservative movement. Senator we appreciate your time today on the day after this big election. We'll talk to you in the days and weeks ahead as well.


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