Following the defenestration of Jim DeMint, interim Heritage Foundation President Ed Feulner called a staff-wide meeting to soothe fears of shaken staffers. No matter who occupied the throne, he promised that the think tank would remain "the leading ideas factory in Washington," a favorite of President Trump and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
"We were Ronald Reagan's favorite think tank," Feulner reminisced on Tuesday evening in front of roughly 300 employees packed into Heritage's eighth floor auditorium. "And today we are, and will continue to be, Donald Trump's favorite think tank."
At once looking to the future and dispelling rumors that Heritage would leave politics behind, Feulner explained, according to an audio recording obtained by the Washington Examiner, that Heritage would "keep working with him to make things better" and occasionally "point out to him maybe little errors in some of his policies."
And by all accounts, Feulner is correct. When others turned their nose up at Trump, the Heritage Foundation bet big by biting their tongue about his conservative shortcomings on the campaign trail. After the populist won the White House, the think tank capitalized to push policy and place staffers inside the administration.
Many were surprised to see DeMint ousted after getting that access. Some said the former South Carolina senator was booted for making Heritage too political. But Feulner indicated Heritage would be working "more closely" with lawmakers.
A testament to Heritage's influence inside the Beltway though, news of DeMint's impending ouster rocked the capital. Congressional Republicans signed an open letter expressing gratitude to the conservative godfather. And according to one source, Vice President Mike Pence was saddened and shocked to heard of DeMint's ouster.
Feulner said he was already making calls to lawmakers to rectify the situation, relating in particular "a very good conversation" he had with House Speaker Paul Ryan the night before.
By Feulner's telling, the two spoke about healthcare reform, an issue that Heritage and the speaker's office have clashed publicly and frequently over.
"So I think you could say it was a pretty friendly meeting with Paul Ryan last night," Feulner said, "when he reminded me of where we were and how far we've come with him and how we can work closely together."
"He wants to work with us. He wants to hear what we have to say and I think we can have a very good and positive relationship," Feulner responded.
Anyone in the Republican establishment hoping for a less aggressive Heritage Foundation will surely be disappointed though. Feulner noted that Heritage Action CEO Mike Needham, who heads up the organization's lobbying arm would be "at my side reminding [Ryan] that we are who we are and what it is that we stand for."
Philip Wegmann is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.