|Senate Majority Whip|
January 3, 2019
|United States Senator|
from South Dakota
January 3, 2005
Serving with Mike Rounds
|Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee|
January 3, 2015 - January 3, 2019
|Chair of the Senate Republican Conference|
January 26, 2012 - January 3, 2019
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from South Dakota's at-large district
January 3, 1997 - January 3, 2003
John Randolph Thune
January 7, 1961
Pierre, South Dakota, U.S.
|Education||Biola University (BA)|
University of South Dakota (MBA)
John Randolph Thune (; born January 7, 1961) is an American politician serving as the senior United States Senator from South Dakota, a seat he was first elected to in 2004. A member of the Republican Party, he previously served as the U.S. Representative for South Dakota's at-large congressional district from 1997 to 2003. He became South Dakota's senior U.S. Senator with the retirement of Tim Johnson in 2015. He served as the GOP's Chief Deputy Whip in 2006, chairman of the Republican Policy Committee in June 2009, and Republican Conference Chairman in 2011, the third-ranking position in the Senate. He has worked in politics and civic organizations since completing his MBA graduate degree. He is also the current dean of South Dakota's congressional delegation. Thune was selected by the Senate Republican Conference to become the Majority Whip for the 116th Congress, succeeding Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who was term limited in the position.
Thune was born in Pierre, South Dakota, the son of Yvonne Patricia (née Bodine) and Harold Richard Thune. Harold Thune was a fighter pilot in the Pacific theater during World War II who flew the Grumman F6F Hellcat. KELO News reported that "Thune flew numerous missions for the Navy from an aircraft carrier. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for shooting down four enemy planes in the Hellcat." Harold Thune flew his missions off the USS Intrepid. Thune's paternal grandfather, Nicholas Thune, was an immigrant from Norway who partnered with his brother Matt to start Thune Hardware stores in Mitchell and Murdo, South Dakota. Thune's maternal grandfather was from Ontario, Canada, and his mother was born in Saskatchewan. Thune's brother, Richard Thune, is an English teacher at Rowland High School in California.
Thune was a star athlete in high school, active in basketball, track, and football. He graduated from Jones County High School in 1979. He played college basketball at Biola University in California, from which he graduated in 1983 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in business. Thune received a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of South Dakota in 1984.
After completing his MBA, Thune became involved in politics. He worked as a legislative aide for U.S. Senator James Abdnor from 1985 to 1987. In 1980 Abdnor had defeated U.S. Senator George McGovern.
In 1989 Thune moved back to Pierre, where he served as executive director of the state Republican Party for two years. Thune was appointed Railroad Director of South Dakota by Governor George S. Mickelson, serving from 1991 to 1993. From 1993 to 1996 he was executive director of the South Dakota Municipal League.
In 1996 Thune decided to make his first foray into electoral politics by entering the race for South Dakota's lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Almanac of American Politics said that Thune "entered the 1996 race as very much an underdog." His primary opponent was sitting Lt. Governor Carole Hillard of Rapid City, who benefited from the support of the longtime South Dakota governor Bill Janklow. A May 1996 poll showed Hillard ahead of Thune 69%-15%. By relying on strong personal skills and the help of his old network of Abdnor friends, Thune won the primary, defeating Hillard 59%-41%. In the general election, Thune defeated Democrat Rick Weiland, a long-serving aide to U.S. Senator Tom Daschle, 58%-37%.
Thune won his subsequent races for U.S. House by wide margins. He was reelected in 1998 with 75% of the vote and in 2000 with 73% of the vote. In 2002, after briefly considering a run for governor, Thune set his sights on a run for the U.S. Senate.
In 2002 Thune challenged incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Johnson. Thune lost by only 524 votes (0.15%). One study concluded: "While the margin of victory [for Johnson] was a mere 524 votes, getting into that winning position required a number of important factors, including Native American turnout, the ability of Johnson and his allies to more effectively use the ground war to get their message out, Thune's ineffectiveness on the air and lack of experience in winning competitive elections, low voter turnout in key Republican counties, the drought, and finally the presence of Kurt Evans. Evans, a Libertarian candidate who withdrew from the race, endorsed Thune, but remained on the ballot and siphoned away more votes from Thune than Johnson. Evans received only 3,070 votes, but that ended up being six times greater than the margin of victory." Despite the close results, Thune did not contest the election.
In 2004 Thune challenged Tom Daschle, the United States Senate Minority Leader and leader of the Senate Democrats. In early 2003 Daschle had unexpectedly decided not to run for president. CNN reported that the "announcement surprised even some of his closest aides, one of whom told CNN plans were being made for Daschle to announce his candidacy Saturday in his hometown of Aberdeen, South Dakota."
This was the most expensive Senate race in 2004, with $30 million spent, and the most expensive race in South Dakota history. It was widely followed in the national media. Thune, along with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, President of the United States George W. Bush, and Vice President Dick Cheney, described Daschle as the "chief obstructionist" of Bush's agenda: "Thune was able to criticize 'Daschle for serving incompatible masters' and portray him, as Frist did when he came to South Dakota to campaign for Thune, as a partisan obstructionist and political heir to liberal icon and former Senator George McGovern of South Dakota."
Daschle's critics charged the Democrat with using filibusters to block confirmation of several of Bush's nominees to the federal judiciary and of being out of step with South Dakota voters on other political and social issues: "The GOP had targeted Daschle, the Senate minority leader, claiming he had been the chief obstruction to President Bush on such issues as tax cuts, judicial nominees and the war in Iraq."
When the race began in early 2004, Daschle led by 7% in January and February. By May, his lead fell to just 2% and into the summer, polls showed an effective tie. Throughout September, Daschle led Thune by margins of 2-5%; from October until the November 2 election, most polls showed Thune and Daschle tied 49% to 49% among likely voters.
On November 2, 2004, Thune defeated Daschle by 4,508 votes, winning 51% of the vote. Daschle's loss was the first ousting of an incumbent Floor Leader since 1952, when Arizona Senator Ernest McFarland lost to Barry Goldwater. The New York Times reported that the loss made "Mr. Daschle the first Senate party leader in more than five decades to be voted out of office. The race had been closely watched by both parties, with White House officials calling the senator an obstructionist for opposing the president on the war in Iraq, tax cuts and judicial nominees. Senator Daschle had fought hard, raising $16 million during the campaign as of mid-October, which he spent largely on television advertisements. Mr. Thune had raised $10 million by the same time."
South Dakota native Tom Brokaw commented that Thune "ran a very strong campaign" to win the 2004 race.University of South Dakota political scientist Bill Richardson said, "motivated John Thune supporters went to the polls in large numbers, part of a massive South Dakota turnout. Unofficial results show nearly 80 percent of registered voters cast ballots."
After Thune defeated Daschle, many Republicans regarded him as a "rising star with unlimited political potential."
Thune faced no Republican or Democratic opposition for his Senate seat in 2010 and won reelection with 100% of the vote.Scott Heidepriem, the South Dakota Senate Minority Leader and a Democratic candidate for Governor of South Dakota, said, "We just concluded that John Thune is an extremely popular senator who is going to win another term in the Senate." One political observer of South Dakota politics noted in 2010 that it was "the first time in the state's modern history in which a major party has failed to field a Senate candidate."
On December 6, 2006, Thune was chosen by Senate Republican Whip Trent Lott to be the GOP's Chief Deputy Whip. After briefly serving as Republican Conference Vice-Chairman, in June 2009 Thune became chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, the fourth-ranking position in the Senate.
In March 2009 Thune was one of 14 senators to vote against a procedural move that essentially guarantees a major expansion of a national service corps. The Congressional Budget Office estimated the bill would cost at least $418 million in the fiscal year 2010 and $5.7 billion from 2010 to 2014.
He was elected Republican Conference Chairman in 2011, taking office in January 2012. The Conference Chairman is the third-ranking position in the US Senate. In late 2011 the Mitchell Daily Republic reported that "Thune's elevation to the No. 3 spot makes him the highest-ranking Republican senator in South Dakota history. Thune has served as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee from 2009 until the present time and was vice chairman of the Republican Conference from 2008 to 2009 and the Republican chief deputy whip from 2006 to 2008."
Thune's emergence as a conservative voice in the Senate gained him a lengthy profile in the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard. The American Conservative Union gave Senator Thune a rating of 100 in 2006 and again in 2010; as of 2010 Thune's lifetime ACU rating was 88.97. Thune was praised in a 2010 Weekly Standard profile as an exceptional politician who was, unlike many of his colleagues, able to communicate traditional conservatism, making him a popular alternative to Tea Party representatives.
In June 2018, Thune called on Special Counsel Robert Mueller to "start winding" down his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
In March 2019, Thune was one of 38 senators to sign a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue warning that dairy farmers "have continued to face market instability and are struggling to survive the fourth year of sustained low prices" and urging his department to "strongly encourage these farmers to consider the Dairy Margin Coverage program."[better source needed]
In December 2017, Thune was one of six senators to sign a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer requesting their "help in ensuring the long-term sustainability of the 340B program", a Trump administration rule mandating that drug companies give discounts to health-care organizations presently serving large numbers of low-income patients.
In January 2019, Thune introduced legislation to repeal the estate tax, which applies to couples with estates above $22 million (it is estimated that approximately 1,700 families pay the tax annually).
In February 2019, Thune was one of 20 senators to sponsor the Employer Participation in Repayment Act, enabling employers to contribute up to $5,250 to their employees' student loans. Thune noted the strong state of the economy and said they should keep their "foot on the gas by passing common-sense bills like the one Senator Warner and I have proposed that would give young career seekers additional tools to help overcome the burden of student loan debt and empower employers to attract future talent."
Since becoming a senator, Thune has taken a leading role in formulating energy policy. He pushed for the final passage of a comprehensive energy bill, which overcame a series of Democratic filibusters and passed the Senate in 2005. Thune helped pass another energy bill in late 2007. Thune advocates developing alternative sources of energy such as ethanol and wind energy; South Dakota has high levels of corn production and windy prairies to produce these forms of energy.
On March 6, 2014, Thune introduced the Reliable Home Heating Act (S. 2086; 113th Congress). The bill would require the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to exempt motor carriers that transport home heating oil from numerous federal safety regulations if the governor of a state declares a state of emergency caused by a shortage of residential heating fuel. The bill also would require the Energy Information Administration (EIA) to notify states if certain petroleum reserves fall below historical averages. Thune said he was "hopeful that this legislation will eliminate red tape for governors to better meet the needs of their residents and businesses during what can be very dangerous conditions."
In March 2019, Thune joined all Senate Republicans, three Democrats, and Angus King in voting against the Green New Deal resolution. Arguing against its implementation, Thune said the resolution would "absolutely be devastating and disastrous" for the agriculture economy both in South Dakota and across the US.
In May 2016, Thune sent Facebook a letter requesting details on how it operates its Trending Topics feature. This followed a Gizmodo article that cited anonymous sources, claiming to be former Facebook employees, who alleged a systemic anti-conservative political bias in how material is selected for display in the list.
Some commentators criticized Thune's letter as an example of government overreach against a private company. Facebook denied the bias allegations. Thune thanked Facebook in a statement saying, "Private companies are fully entitled to espouse their own views, so I appreciate Facebook's efforts to address allegations of bias raised in the media and my concern about a lack of transparency in its methodology for determining trending topics."
In November 2006 Thune said he believed the US could win the Iraq War through stability. He elaborated, "It's making sure that Iraq can't be a staging ground for terrorist attacks against its neighbors in the region or, worse yet, against the United States. I think that is the minimum requirement. We have to achieve security and stability there, or at least a level of stability that doesn't lead to further chaos, violence and ultimately future terrorist attacks against the United States." Thune also espoused the position that while President Bush was open to more strategies in Iraq, his administration and a majority of members of Congress would grant military commanders the final decision on when to reduce U.S. military forces there. In July 2008 Thune said that the Bush administration's moves in Iraq had been a "remarkable success", noting civilian casualties had been reduced by 80 percent, and charged Democratic presidential candidate and Senator Barack Obama with failing "to acknowledge the basic fact of the success and result and progress and gains that have been made as a result of the surge."
In December 2010 Thune was one of 26 senators who voted against the ratification of New START, a nuclear arms reduction treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation obliging both countries to have no more than 1,550 strategic warheads and 700 launchers deployed during the next seven years, and providing for a continuation of on-site inspections that halted when START I expired the previous year. It was the first arms treaty with Russia in eight years.
In November 2012 Thune and Chuck Grassley requested that United States Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner provide a review of the Chinese company Wanxiang Group's plan to acquire bankrupt battery maker A123, arguing that the transaction should be reviewed by the Geithner-led Committee on Foreign Investment to ensure that U.S. military and taxpayer interests in A123 were protected. In October 2018 Thune sent letters to chief executives of Apple Inc, Amazon.com Inc and Supermicro requesting staff briefings about a Bloomberg report that the Chinese government had implanted malicious hardware into server motherboards provided by Supermicro, writing that charges "that the U.S. hardware supply chain has been purposely tampered with by a foreign power must be taken seriously."
In September 2016 Thune was one of 34 senators to sign a letter to United States Secretary of State John Kerry advocating that the United States use "all available tools to dissuade Russia from continuing its airstrikes in Syria" from an Iranian airbase near Hamadan "that are clearly not in our interest" and stating that the airstrikes violated "a legally binding Security Council Resolution" on Iran.
In June 2017, Thune co-sponsored the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (s. 720), which made it a federal crime, punishable by a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment, for Americans to encourage or participate in boycotts against Israel and Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories if protesting actions by the Israeli government.
In March 2018 Thune voted to table a resolution spearheaded by Bernie Sanders, Chris Murphy, and Mike Lee that would have required President Trump to withdraw American troops either in or influencing Yemen within the next 30 days unless they were combating Al-Qaeda.
In May 2020, group of Senate Republicans is planning to introduce a privacy bill that would regulate the data coronavirus contact-tracing apps collect. The COVID-19 Consumer Data Protection Act would "provide all Americans with more transparency, choice, and control over the collection and use of their personal health, geolocation, and proximity data", according to a joint statement. Senator Roger Wicker said the legislation would also "hold businesses accountable to consumers if they use personal data to fight the COVID-19 pandemic." The act would permit the creation of "platforms that could trace the virus and help flatten the curve and stop the spread--and maintaining privacy protections for U.S. citizens," Thune said.
In July 2017 Thune said that Republicans would continue trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act regardless of whether that month's effort collapsed: "We are going to vote to repeal and replace Obamacare. It's not a question of if, it's a question of when."
In March 2016, about seven months before the next presidential election, Thune declared his opposition to considering President Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court, saying, "the next president should make this lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court" because the "American people deserve to have their voices heard on the nomination of the next Supreme Court justice". In September 2020, less than two months before the next presidential election, Thune supported an immediate vote on Trump's nominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy caused by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death.
Thune is a strong advocate of gun rights, sponsoring legislation that would allow individuals with concealed carry permits to use such permits as a valid permit in other states. He also voted against banning high-capacity magazines of over 10 bullets.
On October 3, 2017, Thune became the center of media attention for his response to the mass shooting in Las Vegas. "It sounds like [the shooter] used conversion kits and other things, you know, to make the weapons more lethal," he said. "We'll look at the facts when we get them all in here. I think a lot of us want to do everything we can to prevent tragedies like that from happening again. You know, it's an open society. And when somebody does what he wants to do it's going to be hard to prevent anything. But I think people are going to have to take steps in their own lives to take precautions. To protect themselves. And in situations like that, you know, try to stay safe. As somebody said, get small."
In January 2018 Thune was one of 36 Republican senators to sign a letter to President Trump requesting he preserve the North American Free Trade Agreement by modernizing it for the economy of the 21st century.
In July 2018, as the Trump administration pushed for aid for agricultural producers affected by retaliatory tariffs, Thune stated that the plan offered a "false and short-term" sense of security and cited the importance of fair and free trade for farmers in South Dakota.
Prior to the selection of Sarah Palin, Thune was mentioned as a possible vice presidential pick for Republican nominee John McCain in the 2008 presidential election. Thune publicly played down the speculation.
Significant speculation arose regarding a potential 2012 presidential bid by Thune. He was encouraged to run by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who called him "a consensus builder." One Wall Street Journal article stated that Thune had "name ID in the parts of the first caucus state of Iowa that get neighboring South Dakota media, a $6.9 million bank account he could use for a presidential run, and a national fundraising list of 100,000 names from his race against [former Senator Tom] Daschle." DNC Executive Director Jennifer O'Malley Dillon publicly stated that "among a field of generally flawed (in one way or another) Republican presidential candidates, there is one who genuinely scares her. 'This is personal[,] but John Thune is somebody that I have nightmares about,' she said. 'I've worked for Tim Johnson and Tom Daschle and he is just a guy you can't ever count out.'" According to multiple commentators, Thune's candidacy could be helped by his personal appearance (he "looks like a president"). On February 22, 2011, Thune announced he would not run in 2012.
During the summer of 2012 the USA Today reported that "South Dakota's Thune is on [the] short list for vice president," but Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan was instead selected as the running mate of Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
Despite some speculation, Thune declined to seek the White House in 2016, stating that his "window...might have closed in 2012."
|South Dakota's at-large Congressional district Republican primary election, 1996|
|Republican||John R. Thune||41,322||59.49|
|Year||Democratic||Votes||Pct||Republican||Votes||Pct||3rd Party||Party||Votes||Pct||3rd Party||Party||Votes||Pct|
|1998||Jeff Moser||64,433||25%||John R. Thune||194,157||75%|
|2000||Curt Hohn||78,321||25%||John R. Thune||231,083||73%||Brian Lerohl||Libertarian||5,357||2%|
|2002||167,481||50%||John R. Thune||166,949||49%||Kurt Evans||Libertarian||3,071||1%|
|2004||Tom Daschle||193,340||49%||John R. Thune||197,848||51%|
|2010||John R. Thune||227,947||100%|
|2016||Jay Williams||104,140||28.2%||John R. Thune||265,516||71.8%|
|U.S. House of Representatives|
| Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Dakota's at-large congressional district
|Party political offices|
| Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from South Dakota
| Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from South Dakota
2004, 2010, 2016
| Senate Republican Chief Deputy Whip
| Vice Chair of the Senate Republican Conference
| Chair of the Senate Republican Policy Committee
| Chair of the Senate Republican Conference|
| Senate Republican Whip
| U.S. Senator (Class 3) from South Dakota
Served alongside: Tim Johnson, Mike Rounds
Kay Bailey Hutchison
| Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce Committee
| Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee
| Senate Majority Whip
|U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)|
| United States Senators by seniority