In Ogden stop, Lee puts focus of reelection bid on regaining GOP majority
OGDEN — Top on Sen. Mike Lee‘s list of why he should be reelected: Going back to Washington, D.C., will help the GOP regain control of the U.S. Senate.
“It’s never been more important for Republicans to regain the majority in the Senate than right now. We’ve got a president whose failed policies have produced catastrophes in every area,” most notably inflation, Lee, a GOPer seeking his third term, said Monday in Ogden.
As is, Democrats narrowly control both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House, and regaining majorities in each body is a key Republican aim. Democrats hold 48 of the 100 U.S. Senate seats, but two independents caucus with them and Vice President Kamala Harris, a Democrat, serves as a tie-breaker in the 50-50 body.
Lee’s chief opponent in the Senate contest is independent Evan McMullin, who has said he won’t caucus with the Democrats or Republicans if he wins. Lee, nevertheless, likens McMullin to a Democrat, which, as a GOPer, underscores his focus on regaining GOP control of the Senate.
“If you want a Republican majority, you want to elect a Republican rather than a Democrat,” Lee said during his stop here at Farr Better Ice Cream, alluding to the Utah Democratic Party’s endorsement of McMullin last April. “Whether he calls himself an independent or not, he is the Democratic candidate. The Democrats endorsed him. They chose to run him instead of a Democratic candidate.”
In fact, McMullin voices concern with the “political extremes” in the country, putting a focus in serving as a force to “unite instead of divide” on key issues facing the country, according to his website.
Either way, Lee — campaigning on Monday with U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall, a Kansas Republican — says inflation is the key issue and hammers away at the policies of President Joe Biden, a Democrat, as a key contributor to the problem. Like many GOPers, he also said Biden’s policies have hamstrung U.S. energy development, boosting gas and fuel prices and further pressuring consumer prices upward.
“We need a Republican majority in the Senate and the House in order to provide an effective, meaningful counterbalance (to Biden),” Lee said. “And as a Republican, I believe in developing our nation’s energy resources so that Americans can have access to safe, clean, reliable sources of energy to heat their homes, to run their cars and otherwise to live in a prosperous, upwardly mobile society. All of those things become impossible with the Biden administration policies.”
There have been a lot of sharp elbows in the Senate contest and McMullin, in particular, has attacked Lee’s ties to former President Donald Trump. At a campaign rally last month in Salt Lake City, McMullin said Lee “quickly became a loyal sycophant” of Trump after Trump’s election in 2016, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. McMullin ran as an independent in the 2016 presidential election, in large part due to his distaste with Trump, even garnering the vote of Lee, similarly disenchanted at the time with Trump.
Lee said he was “a huge Trump skeptic” as his 2016 presidential bid unfolded, in part because of the hits Trump levied against other GOP senators also vying for the presidential nomination, some of them Lee’s friends. “I also didn’t believe him, didn’t believe he would do the things he’d say he’d do,” Lee said.
After Trump won, though, Lee changed his tune and, in the end, was “pleasantly surprised” at what he says Trump was able to accomplish in his term. He singled out the tax reform package Trump pushed, Trump’s efforts at regulatory reform and Trump’s selection of “textualist originalists” to serve in the federal courts, including three U.S. Supreme Court justices.
That said, Lee also noted that he voted less with Trump than even Sen. Mitt Romney, Utah’s other U.S. senator, and most other GOP senators from around the country.
Indeed, Lee voted in line with Trump’s position 73.2% of the time during Trump’s time as president, according to FiveThirtyEight, which analyzes political, polling and other data. Romney voted with Trump 75% of the time, just ahead of Lee, while only four GOP senators voted with Trump less than Lee — Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Jon Kyl of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine.
As for the vote for McMullin in 2016 when the independent ran for president, Lee now regrets the move.
“Big mistake, big mistake,” he said. “It’s part of what happens when you vote not for the candidate you want, but just voting against someone else. Sometimes you don’t make the best judgement call and that was certainly the case then.”
A ‘CONSTITUTIONAL CONSERVATIVE’
Lee, who lives in Provo, calls himself a “constitutional conservative.” More specifically, he’s leery of the the federal government taking too large a role at the expense of local and state power. “Where it purports to be the solution, very often (the federal government) is the problem,” he said.
In that vein, what he sees as the ballooning power of the federal power — both among the president and unelected federal bureaucrats who set regulations — is a big concern. Congress “outsourced the lawmaking task and thereby insulated ourselves from accountability,” leading to the power imbalance, he maintains.
Marshall, the Kansas senator, is one of several lawmakers who have campaigned with Lee. He echoed the importance of GOPers securing control of Congress in this year’s elections. Election Day is Nov. 8.
“If Mike Lee does not win, this empowers Joe Biden and (U.S. Senate Majority Leader) Chuck Schumer,” a Democrat from New York, Marshall said. “It allows them to set the agenda. A vote for anyone other than Mike Lee is a vote for Joe Biden.”