Christmas just came early at the Heritage Foundation. Almost eight months after ousting former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint from the presidency, the conservative think tank told staff on Tuesday morning that Kay Coles James would take the helm.
James actually ran the search committee earlier this year, a process she said employed “more than 200 names.” Eventually, that search yielded one name: hers.
“I look forward to expanding the conservative movement in a positive, inclusive way as we build an America where freedom, opportunity, prosperity and civil society flourish,” James wrote shortly after the Washington Examiner broke the story.
The new president previously served on the National Commission on Children under President Ronald Reagan and later as director of the Office of Personnel Management under President George W. Bush. Most recently, she helped lead President Trump’s transition for the Office of Management and Budget.
Heritage's board kept the selection process close to the vest. Staffers learned of the Tuesday all-hands meeting only 90 minutes before it started. “Dear Colleagues, please join me for an important All-Staff meeting this morning,” wrote former Heritage boss Ed Feulner, who retook control on an interim basis after DeMint’s departure.
Sources told the Washington Examiner that the board failed to arrive at a decision by the Thanksgiving holiday, their first self-imposed deadline. But spirits were jubilant among board members Tuesday morning, with one telling the Washington Examiner before the announcement that "We got a good person. Harmony reigns."
Initial reactions from inside the Heritage campus were jubilant with employees rushing to Twitter to share their approval. Praise also poured in from across the street on Capitol Hill where House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., heralded James as “a brilliant choice.”
Not everyone was so thrilled. More than a few sources noted that James arrived at the job after helping to lead the search for a different candidate, a coincidence not unlike how former Vice President Dick Cheney became the No. 2 to President George W. Bush. “History,” noted Tuft’s University professor Daniel Drezner in an email to the Washington Examiner, “suggests that searches which end with the head of the search committee getting the job do not work out terribly well.”
But the staffers who crammed into the auditorium on the seventh floor of the organization’s Massachusetts avenue campus this morning were not so concerned about historical parallels.
“It’s amazing to have a leader of Heritage who can talk about learning to fight for what’s right as a 12-year-old girl in an all-white school during desegregation and that she’s fought for what’s right ever sense and will continue to do so as president of Heritage,” one source texted the Washington Examiner. “The whole building is super pumped.”