Washington Prowler

Gumming Up Bears

Jim DeMint's Appropriations Committee additions. Also: Mike Pence for governor?

By 11.8.10

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WHO'S MINDING DEMINT?
Look for Sen. Jim DeMint to use his leverage and newly expanded caucus of fiscal-conservative Senators to influence the Senate Appropriations Committee. Senate leadership staff expect that -- depending on Democrat turnover and Republican gains that have cut into the Democrat majority -- the GOP will gain at least two additional seats on most committees, and with retirements and losses from last Tuesday, a number of more seats will be open to the GOP.

In the case of Appropriations, Republicans are looking at as many as six or seven open seats, depending on the outcome of the Alaska contest and the status of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who currently serves on the committee, plus at least one new seat due to the increased size of their conference (and the shrinkage of the Democrats' caucus).

"One of the clearest sign that [Sen. Mitch] McConnell got the message from this election and the importance of cutting spending and changing the way we do business is going to be reflected in the Appropriations assignments," says a legislative aide with ties to DeMint.

Indeed, with a potential one-vote majority on the committee, and several Democrats on that committee looking at a tough re-election race in 2012 -- Nebraska's Ben Nelson and Montana's Jon Tester, for example -- the ability of Republicans to make real inroads on spending cuts is greatly enhanced.

DeMint and his advisers are looking to place at least three Republican seats on the committee. Those in line might include Utah's Mike Lee (who knocked off current Appropriations Committee member Robert Bennett), Wisconsin's Ron Johnson, and either Pat Toomey (who aided in the knockoff of current committee member Arlen Specter) or Marco Rubio.

McConnell and his leadership team are said to be concerned about putting DeMint allies on the Appropriations Committee, because, as one leadership aide put it, "they could really gum up the works." But DeMint and his team believe that when it comes to spending, "gumming up the works" is exactly what the American people want.

GOVERNOR PENCE?
While Rep. Mike Pence may be dipping his toe in the waters of national politics -- and encouraging talk of his running for President -- sources close to him say that he understands that if he were to run for President he needs to have additional experience to build on his rock-ribbed conservative principles.

"He wants some executive experience, and knows he needs it," says a Pence adviser in Indiana, who says that the plan for many months has been for Pence to build a national fundraising network now, and seeking the Indiana governorship when it opens up in 2012. "It would be tough to be a sitting governor and build out a national donor pool, particularly in the first term, so why not take advantage of the notoriety and start doing it now? That helps set you up for 2016, which is probably more realistic for Republicans anyway."

Pence, according to the source, believes that it will be difficult for any Republican to win in 2012 against a sitting President, but replacing a successful governor in Indiana -- Mitch Daniels, who is said to be mulling a 2012 run himself -- who will most likely leave office with a strong majority in the state legislature and a solid economy for his successor, would set up Pence nicely.

"Mike has the time. He'd be about 55 or so when the 2016 cycle starts, so he has the time to build the résumé and the national ID that he needs, while helping other conservatives around the country," says the adviser.

Others inside the Pence camp believe that if Daniels chooses not to enter the presidential race for 2012, and there is are no other clear-cut conservatives in the race, then Pence might consider a run.

"Let's face it, [Mitt] Romney and {Mike] Huckabee aren't going to cut it for conservatives, just like they didn't cut it for them last time," says the adviser. "If you don't have a Daniels or a [Haley] Barbour or DeMint in the race, then you need someone to fill that void."

Both Pence and Sen. John Thune (SD) are viewed as potential 2012 primary entrants who would be running to build national name recognition and the beginnings of a national fundraising base with a more serious and realistic eye toward the 2016 election cycle. 

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