WASHINGTON — Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse is the only finalist to be the president of the University of Florida, the school said Thursday, and the Republican senator has indicated he will accept the position, meaning he will likely resign in the coming weeks .

The school said in a statement that its presidential search committee unanimously recommended Sasse, a decision that must be voted on by the school’s board of trustees and then confirmed by the board of governors. He is scheduled to visit campus on Monday to meet with students, faculty and other members of the university community, the school said.

In a statement released by the school, Sass said he is “thrilled to be working alongside one of the nation’s most distinguished faculty.”

Sass will be one of several Republican critics of former President Donald Trump who will not return to Congress next year, and one of many who have paid a price for their antagonism at home. Although Sass will not be up for re-election until 2026, he has faced fierce criticism from members of his state party. And the academic, sometimes caustic senator who once seemed destined to run for president found himself on the sidelines of his party’s embrace of the former president.

Sasse’s expected resignation is unlikely to affect the 50-50 balance in the Senate, as Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts will appoint a successor if Sasse resigns by Jan. 3. If Sasse leaves the Senate after that, if Ricketts resigns and leaves office, his successor will appoint Sasse’s replacement. Republican Jim Pillen is heavily favored to win the governor’s race.

Sass was president of Midland University, a Christian school in eastern Nebraska, before running for Senate.

Sass said on Twitter that he had been pursued by other universities, but “this time is different because the University of Florida is completely different.”

“If UF wants to go big, I’m excited about the wide range of opportunities,” he said.

Sass is a second-term senator who has had a rocky relationship with Republicans in his state after outspoken criticism of Trump. He was one of seven Republican senators who voted to impeach the former president for “incitement to sedition” after the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Nebraska Republicans reprimanded Sasse but did not convict him after the impeachment trial. Last February, the state Republican Central Committee passed a resolution expressing “deep disappointment and sadness” over Sasse’s approach to his work in the Senate. The participating state urged him to represent “the people of Nebraska in Washington, not Washington to the people of Nebraska.”

At the time, Sass dismissed criticism from his own party and noted his conservative vote in the Senate. He said party activists in Nebraska were “beaten” that he condemned Trump’s remarks to the crowd just before the riots at the U.S. Capitol.

After the vote to impeach Trump, Sass said he “promised to speak out if the president — even from my own party — oversteps his authority.”

“I cannot go back on my word, and Congress cannot lower our standards on such a serious matter simply because it is politically convenient,” he said. “I must vote to convict.”

In March 2016, the Nebraska Republican Central Committee fined him for criticizing then-candidate Trump. In 2019, Sass softened those criticisms when he ran for re-election against a primary challenger who was a Trump supporter. Trump later endorsed Sasse, saying he did a “great job” representing Nebraska.

However, a year later, Trump called on Republicans to replace Sasse after he again criticized him.

Sasse’s replacement will serve two years before a special election in 2024. The winner of that election will have to run again in 2026, when Sasse’s term ends.

Nebraska’s other senator, Deb Fisher, is up for re-election in 2024, so Nebraska will have two Senate seats up for grabs this year.

Of the seven Republican senators who voted to impeach Trump in his second impeachment in 2021, two more are retiring. In the House of Representatives, eight out of ten Republicans who voted for impeachment are either retiring or have lost primaries.

Sasse, who holds degrees from Harvard and Yale, served at the Justice Department and as assistant secretary of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush before becoming president of Midland University. Midland is a small university located in Fremont, Nebraska, with just over 1,600 students.

Rahul Patel, chairman of Florida’s search committee, which is recommending Sasse for the job, said he “brings intellectual curiosity, a belief in the power and potential of American universities, and unparalleled leadership experience in higher education, government and the private sector.”

Governor Ricketts wished Sasse well in a statement following the school’s announcement.

Sasse “has one of the most conservative voices in the Senate, and we need more conservative voices in our universities,” Ricketts said.


Associated Press writer Kevin Freking contributed to this report. Funk contributed from Omaha.