U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse is expected to announce resignation from Senate

Governor will pick replacement, who would face voters in 2024

By: - October 6, 2022 3:18 pm

U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) leaves the Senate chamber after a vote at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

OMAHA – U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican who made his name nationally by disagreeing publicly with former President Donald Trump and voting with his party, plans to resign his post, the Nebraska Examiner has confirmed.

Four people familiar with Sasse’s decision making told the Examiner early Thursday afternoon that Sasse informed Senate staffers this week he plans to resign and take a job at an academic institution. His office later confirmed the potential resignation.

The news was reported first by KFAB talk show host Ian Swanson, a former staffer for Sasse.

The University of Florida this week listed Sasse as the only finalist for its presidency. Sasse joined the Senate in 2015 after serving as president of Midland University in Fremont, Neb.

He won re-election during a contentious 2020 election in which he ultimately earned Trump’s endorsement and fended off a challenger from the right. He outperformed Trump in Nebraska, earning 63% of the vote to Trump’s 58%.

His wife, Melissa, suffered a brain aneurysm in 2007 and the senator has, at times, alluded to her health concerns as a reason he might not seek re-election to the Senate beyond his current term.

Sasse, in a statement, described the University of Florida as “uniquely positioned to lead this country through an era of disruption.” He emphasized “the radical disruption of work” and technology’s role in shaking things up.

“Washington partisanship isn’t going to solve these workforce challenges — new institutions and entrepreneurial communities are going to have to spearhead this work,” Sasse said in a statement.

The next step in Florida’s hiring process requires Sasse to visit campus on Oct. 10, where he will meet with students and faculty. After that, the university will accept feedback until Nov. 1.

Barring the unexpected, people with knowledge of the process said, Sasse would resign his seat in either late November or early December, after he has been offered the job and accepted it.

Because the resignation could come less than 60 days before the November statewide general election or more than 60 days before the next statewide general election, the governor would appoint Sasse’s replacement. The governor has up to 45 days after the vacancy to fill the position. The appointee would serve until Jan. 3, 2025, according to the Nebraska Secretary of State’s Office.

An election to fill the remaining two years of Sasse’s term would be held in 2024, according to state law and state election experts. That’s the same year U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer’s seat is up for election. It’s also a presidential election year.

Speculation around Nebraska centers on who the governor might pick. All three of Nebraska’s Republican U.S. House members — Reps. Adrian Smith, Mike Flood and Don Bacon — might be candidates for selection.

Other rumored names include Gov. Pete Ricketts, (the law does not appear to prevent him from appointing himself); State Sen. Brett Lindstrom, who lost the GOP nomination for governor this May; and State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Omaha. Possibilities also include outgoing Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson and Speaker of the Legislature Mike Hilgers, who is running to replace him.

A Ricketts spokeswoman said the office would not speculate on who might be selected, saying the job is still filled. Ricketts, in a statement, thanked Sasse for his “service to our state and nation.”

“(Sasse) would make an excellent President for the University of Florida,” Ricketts said. “He has one of the most conservative voting records in the Senate, and we need more conservative voices in our universities.”

Sasse’s Senate work focused on cyber security, intelligence gathering, threats from the Chinese state and confirming conservative judges. He often tried to steer big-picture thinking, modeling legislation that created a Cyberspace Solarium Commission after Eisenhower’s 1950s Solarium Commission that focused Americans on Cold War-era threats.

He ran on the idea that conservatives needed to advocate what they planned to do to address some of the nation’s problems instead of saying only what they opposed. At the time, he sought a conservative replacement for Obamacare. One never passed.

He voted with Trump nearly 85% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight.com. But he and Trump disagreed often in the press, including about tariffs and trade. Trump mocked Sasse in October 2020 on Twitter as “Little Ben” after one of their exchanges. Their disagreements became more heated after Jan. 6, 2021.

Sasse voted to convict Trump during the president’s second impeachment trial. The Nebraska Republican Party at the time passed a resolution rebuking him but fell short of the votes to censure him.

Since then, Sasse joined a group of Senate Republicans and Democrats pushing a higher bar for Congress to reject Electoral College results from the states.

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Aaron Sanderford
Aaron Sanderford

Political reporter Aaron Sanderford has tackled various news roles in his 20-plus year career. He has reported on politics, crime, courts, government and business for the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star. He also spent several years as an assignment editor and worked two stints as an editorial writer. From 2005 to 2007, he served as communications director for then-Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman. Aaron most recently was the lead investigative reporter for KMTV 3 in Omaha, focusing on holding public officials accountable. His work has received awards from the Associated Press, Great Plains Journalism and more.

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