Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, did not vote for Donald Trump last year. You wouldn’t know that from the embrace that he got on stage at the Utah State Capitol on Monday.
The state’s senior senator, the 83-year-old Orrin Hatch, basked in most of the limelight at Monday’s event, a fly-in by Trump in which he signed executive orders dramatically scaling back the size of two national monuments.
When asked by a reporter why he was in Utah, Trump said that it was because of the loyalty of Hatch — and Hatch’s dogged determination to undoing these federal public land grabs. When Trump was in his most perilous pre-election moment, the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape, Hatch stood by him, as did three of Utah’s four representatives, who are all Republican.
But Lee – plus Rep. Mia Love, and Gov. Gary Herbert – did not. They refused to vote for their party’s candidate.
All seemed forgiven as President Trump journeyed to Utah
All seemed forgiven on Monday. Lee, on the stand but not scheduled to speak, couldn’t seem to avoid Trump’s insistence that he come out and say a few words.
“It’s not every day that the President of the United States asks you to take the microphone from him,” Lee said. “Thank you for standing with the people of Utah. We appreciate it deeply.”
Fortunately, in an exclusive interview with The Jack News, conducted on the eve of the Senate’s consideration of tax reform last week, the 46-year-old Lee was more effusive about the president, for good or for ill. And most of was for good.
Lee touched upon the Bears Ears National Monument, tax reform and being a “constitutional conservative” in the era of Donald Trump. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Donald Trump and prior Democrats on the use of the Antiquities Act for public lands
The Jack News: I understand the president is coming to Utah next Monday. What are you expecting from Donald Trump’s visit to Utah?
Sen. Mike Lee: We are pleased with the news reports that President Trump will be coming to Utah, and that he is willing to address the overreach by President Obama, who dedicated a national monument of more than 1.4 million acres, larger than the state of Delaware, on December 28, 2016. We [Sen. Hatch and other Utah stakeholders] have asked him to use his authority as president under the Antiquities Act to significantly reduce the size of the monument. That is what we hope he will be doing.
The Jack News: Were there other things that you were talking with the president about today?
Sen. Lee: Yes, we had a good chat about the tax reform, to bring about tax relief for America’s families, and to promote economic development within the United States. The president is a very aggressive cheerleader for this cause, and I think that he was successful today in helping to generate more enthusiasm in the Senate.
Sen. Lee’s thoughts on tax reform and benefits for middle class families
The Jack News: I saw a press release from you and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, in which you implied that were not yet supportive of the tax reform bill. Has anything changed since that November 9 statement?
Sen. Lee: We have been pushing for several years to get rid of, or at least soften the blow of, the parent tax penalty. Sen. Rubio and I indicated our desire to have the child tax credit increased. We were thrilled when the bill that made its way out of committee increased the child tax credit up to $2,000 per child.
The Jack News: So at this point, are you prepared to support the tax bill?
Sen. Lee: I would still love to see the child tax credit made refundable up to the amount of taxes paid, including payroll tax liability. That said, this is a good bill, and all things considered, it is one that I anticipate supporting. (Sen. Lee, as with all Republicans except Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, supported the tax bill.)
The Jack News: Do you think that your Tea Party colleagues have been making the perfect the enemy of the good, not just on tax reform, but on a repeal of Obamacare?
Sen. Lee: Many of the the most conservative members of the Senate, including myself, are supportive of this bill. With any legislative process that involves more than one person, compromise is not an end result, but compromise is an inevitability. We can’t always get exactly what you want, but when we see something move the ball in the right direction, that would promote economic growth and result in real relief for American families, that is worth supporting.
The Jack News: Is there any risk that this bill doesn’t follow the Constitution’s Origination Clause?
Sen. Lee: This bill originated in the House of Representatives. The fact that there will be substantial changes made to that bill doesn’t change the fact that it originated in the House. It is not as if we are starting from scratch and coming up with an entirely new type of bill. This is still a tax bill, and it is still similar in many respects.
The Jack News: How was that different from the Obamacare legislation of 2009-2010?
Sen. Lee: As I pointed out in my book, Our Lost Constitution, there was a significant issue there in that the bill that was passed by the Senate and which eventually became the Affordable Care Act was airdropped into a vehicle that first came through the House. It dealt with an entirely different set of issues and was not a tax bill. This is meaningfully different from that.
Donald Trump understands the importance of de-concentrating power from Washington
The Jack News: Let’s come back to the elephant in the room, or – if you will – the room in the elephants, or President Trump. What is he like personally, and how does he fit within the movement for Constitutionalism and liberty?
Sen. Lee: He’s exactly the same person in a small group setting, or in a one-on-one setting, as he is on TV. Regardless of how you feel about the president, you have to give points for consistency. He has an unconventional approach, but it is an approach that many regard as refreshing. It is an approach that does focus a lot on changing the climate in Washington and de-concentrating power, which has been allowed to accumulate in the hands of a few over the last several decades.
The Jack News: Do you find it refreshing?
Sen. Lee: I find very refreshing the fact that he has taken down more federal regulations than any other president in history. Last I checked, he has removed 15 or 16 regulation for every new regulation he has put in place. He is someone who understands that we have taken power away from American people in two steps: From the people to Washington, and we have had our elected lawmakers delegate the power over to unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats. This has produced a regulatory compliance cost of $2 trillion a year. This is up from $300 billion a year 20 years ago, when I first started tracking this problem. The fact that he is willing to take on that cause, the fact that he is willing to call out the swamp for what it is, is something that I find very refreshing.
The Jack News: And so that is worth paying the price in the lack of civility and decorum and the tone that the president brings?
Sen. Lee: I don’t think it has to be a trade-off. I don’t think one has to embrace the president’s style or everything he says or everything he Tweets in order to support his sincere desire to restore some of what has been lost in terms of Constitutionally limited government.
(President Donald Trump jokes with Senator Mike Lee as he speaks at the rotunda of the Utah State Capitol on December 4, 2017, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Trump announced the reduction in size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments which were created by Presidents Obama and Clinton. Photo by George Frey/Getty Images.)