Chatting with Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)
“[T]he powers of government must be restrained. They’ve got to be restrained in terms of what they do in administering government programs, they need to be restrained as far as how much money they take from the American people, and they need to be restrained in terms of how much they interfere with the liberty of individual Americans.” — Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)
Back in 2010, conservatives trained their focus on Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT), who had positioned himself over the years as a big government Republican. Bennett had backed billions in corporate welfare for private companies, including the TARP bailout, and supported a healthcare proposal that was considered by some to be worse than ObamaCare.
Bennett was unable to gain enough support during the 2010 Utah GOP convention to win the nomination, setting the stage for a primary between Tim Bridgewater and Mike Lee.
Lee would go on to edge out his primary opponent thanks to his strong constitutional and fiscally conservative message and support from grassroots organizations, and he easily defeated his Democratic opponent in the historic 2010 mid-term election.
Since joining the Senate as part of the “Tea Party class,” Lee has been strong advocate of slashing government spending, reining in executive power, and protecting constitutionally guaranteed rights. Sen. Lee’s knowledge of the Constitution and the structure of government that Founding Fathers envisioned was put on display during Sen. Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster of CIA nominee John Brennan last Wednesday.
Yesterday, I spoke with Sen. Lee about his role in Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster, the push in the Senate to defund ObamaCare, and much more.
When asked about the filibuster, Sen. Lee, who had been cross-examining Attorney General Eric Holder in the Judicary Committee, explained that he got down to the floor of the Senate as quickly as he could to help.
“As soon as I got a text message from a staffer telling me that it had started, that Sen. Paul was doing this, I immediately decided I’ve got to get down there to help him,” Sen. Lee recalled. “So I got in touch with my staff, told them I’m going to need to go to the floor, help me arrange my schedule so that I can do that. Everything was set in motion at that point.”
While Democrats have long-claimed to be advocates for civil liberties, it was the Tea Party that was defending due process and pushing for restraint of executive power, something I found to be extraordinary. Sen. Lee explained that he didn’t see it through that prism “for the simple reason that the principles of the constitutional conservative movement, of which I am proud to be a part, lead inevitably to this conclusion — that is that the powers of government must be restrained.”
“They’ve got to be restrained in terms of what they do in administering government programs, they need to be restrained as far as how much money they take from the American people, and they need to be restrained in terms of how much they interfere with the liberty of individual Americans,” he added.
Many know of Sen. Lee’s background as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, but the influence of his father, Rex Lee, who served served as Solicitor General in Ronald Reagan’s first-term, had the most profound impact.
When asked about his upbringing, Sen. Lee noted, “[T]he Constitution was a regular talking point in my home. I think I was 30 before I realized not every family talks about the Presentment Clause of Article I, Section 7 around the dinner table.”
“[H]e definitely influenced me in the sense that he exposed me to the operations of government and he discussed with me on a regular routine basis from a very young age the Constitution and the principles on which our country was founded,” Sen. Lee explained. “He taught me to love the process of reading it, studying it, coming to an understanding of it, and understanding the many applications and nuances of the language in the Constitution.”
Sen. Lee’s office recently announced that he would supporting Sen. Ted Cruz’s amendment to the upcoming Continuing Resolution to defund ObamaCare. When asked about this, Sen. Lee explained, “It seems to me that the absolute minimum ask on that should be that we should have a vote on whether or not we’re going to continue funding the implementation of the Affordable Care Act as a part of that discussion, as a part of that debate on whether or not to pass this Continuing Resolution.”
Sen. Lee and I also discussed a few other issues — including the budget process in the Senate, the proposed minimum wage increase, gun control proposals that will soon come up for a vote in the Senate, and the hashtag, #CutThisNotThat, which started from his office.