Utah’s Senator Mike Lee joined me this morning:
HH: I’m joined by United States Senator Mike Lee from the state of Utah. Senator Lee, welcome, good morning, is the President right?
ML: Yeah, he’s right. This is a fantastic tax bill. This is a tax bill that’s doing amazing things for the American economy, and the numbers just keep proving that.
HH: How much credit does the President get for the tax bill?
ML: Well, he had the vision in order to identify the fact that we needed to do it. He had the persistence in order to continue and encourage Congress to work on it in spite of setbacks. And he also had the restraint necessary to make sure that Congress passed what it could pass without him setting arbitrary, unreasonable restrictions on what we could pass. So I think he gets a lot of credit here.
HH: All right, before I go to the CR and the shutdown and the Senate rules, it is reported that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is going to run for senator in Utah. If he does, I think he’s going to have to work to keep the vote under 90%. But will you support him, Mike Lee?
ML: I think you’re right. I think he is going to have to work hard to keep the vote under 90%. I think if he does run, he will win, and I look forward to working with him if he does.
HH: All right. Back to the continuing resolution which opened the government on Monday. You voted against that CR. Why?
ML: I did, because back to back continuing resolutions have produced a level of dysfunction that culminates inevitably in more shutdowns, and in more shutdown threats. When we’re asked to fund the government on the basis of a reset button, one that we are asked to consider and debate within the final 48 hours of the expiration of a spending period, that creates inevitably the risk of another shutdown. And I think it’s wrong, I don’t think there’s any good reason for us to approach it that way. But that tactic will work, and it will continue as long as members continue to support it. That’s why I voted against it.
HH: Now in so doing, though, American troops in the field, including those in Syria and in Iraq and Afghanistan are under fire, were not getting paid. Did that give you pause?
ML: Well, they did continue to get paid. We all knew that within a matter of days, perhaps hours, the shutdown would be resolved. And the fact that the shutdown was resolved within 72 hours after its onset before it affected anybody’s paycheck itself reveals that had they just put the spending bills on the floor perhaps 72 hours earlier, perhaps all of this uncertainty might have been avoided in the first place. And that’s been my point, is that we ought to be bringing these bills to the floor. The House of Representatives has passed all 12 appropriations bills last year, and the Senate never even bothered to bring them up. I think we need to bring them up and make people debate them and discuss them.
HH: Now there are two separate legislative streams flowing right now – one is immigration, and the other, the budget. Your colleague, Marco Rubio, said stripped down to its essentials, the smallest DACA deal is the Dreamers get to stay, between 700,000 and a million, provided they’re not involved in violence or criminal gangs or have felonies, and in exchange, the President’s request for border wall funding of $25 billion gets appropriated, not merely authorized, but actually appropriated. Would you vote for such a stripped down deal, Senator Lee?
ML: Yes, I would, and I think that’s an eminently reasonable suggestion. I also think in order to get something done, we have to remember some of the lessons learned in 2013 from the Gang of 8 experience. The more that bill was laden down with more provisions, the less narrow it became, the more impossible it became to pass. And I think this time around, we would do well to keep it narrow, just as Senator Rubio has suggested.
HH: Yesterday, I wrote a piece in the Washington Post online edition about the need for the Senate to reform. Your colleague, Senator Wicker, read it into the record and onto the floor last night, spoke about it, that the Senate rules on appointments and the Senate rules on appropriations are badly broken. Do you support reforming the rules, Senator Lee?
ML: Of course, I support reforming the rules. But what the reforms look like matters, and the process by which we do that also matters. I also think it’s important to take into account, Hugh, the fact that the rules that we’ve got on the books are not being utilized to the full extent I think they could be. I think members could be made to speak when they want to filibuster something such that the question could be called on a particular piece of legislation if people aren’t on the floor exercising their rights. There are these and other procedural tools that could be used to make the existing rules more workable.
HH: Which Democrats would you trust to work in a small group led by, many people say, James Lankford has the lead on this. Who do you trust in the Democratic caucus to combine with a few Republicans to come up with a rules package for an up or down vote?
ML: You know, there are a lot of Democrats who I have worked with and had a lot of conversations with about on this. One of the first that discussed this with me when I arrived was Tom Udall from New Mexico. Tom Udall has been a big advocate in favor of rules reform, and he’s the first person who addressed with me before I had even been sworn into office after I was elected during the orientation process, and said we need the speaking filibuster, that we need to bring back the speaking filibuster. And that’s one of the reasons why I think he’s one that we should look to in reforming the rules and in figuring out the best way forward.
HH: All right, now I want to switch over, you’re a member of the Judiciary Committee, and some important stuff is coming in front of you. The Russian investigation is in the headlines today. Attorney General Sessions was interviewed at length. Do you believe the Attorney General ought to resign?
ML: I know of no reason why the Attorney General needs to resign. If someone wants to make an argument to that effect, as with any public official, they’ve got the right to do so. But I haven’t heard of any argument suggesting that he needs to.
HH: Do you believe that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein needs to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, thus putting Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand in charge of it?
ML: I don’t know. I suspect arguments are going to be made to that effect. Recusal can be a very personal decision and a very technical one. I don’t feel qualified to opine on that on his behalf.
HH: Then we switch over from the Russia investigation, and by the way, have you seen any evidence of collusion, yet, Senator Lee?
ML: No, no. Not only have I not seen any evidence of collusion, I don’t know anyone who has any evidence of collusion in the United States Senate, not a single Republican, not a single Democrat, in the House or in the Senate, for that matter.
HH: It appears as though Special Counsel Mueller, in whom I have great confidence as a straight arrow, investigation is more about obstruction of justice now than Russian collusion. Do you agree with that assessment?
ML: I have no idea. Whatever he’s looking at is not something that I have immediate access to.
HH: Have you been keeping up with the Peter Strzok-Lisa Page text messaging both scandal and now the disappearing ones?
ML: Yes. I mean, I’ve followed the headlines, and I’ve been aware of what’s been alleged, and it’s pretty disturbing. I mean, look, anytime you have law enforcement being rendered part of the political machinery of this country, anytime you’ve got serious allegations of that, that’s very disturbing. The weaponization of our criminal law enforcement apparatus is a very disturbing trend, and one that we need to watch out for.
HH: Do you believe it’s actually happened, that it’s been weaponized?
ML: I think a credible argument can be made that it has been. And I think we’ve got to get to the bottom of it. We’ve got to solve that problem.
HH: Should a second special counsel be appointed to look into the weaponization of our intelligence and law enforcement community?
ML: I think it could be. I don’t think it has to come to that. I think an investigation can be launched internally within the Department of Justice. It could be launched at the request of the Attorney General and need not take place through a special counsel.
HH: Now to switch to confirmations. The President announced his tenth slate of judicial nominees yesterday, only one circuit court appointment nominated yesterday. That was disappointing to me, but we’ll get there eventually. Has Justice Stras re-cleared the Judiciary Committee? Is he ready for a vote?
ML: Yes, yes he is, and I look forward to getting him confirmed. I’ve known David Stras for a long time. When he and I were both lawyers in private practice, we worked briefly at the same law firm. He’s a good man, and I’ve admired his record on the Minnesota Supreme Court. And he needs to get a vote, and I believe he will get a vote soon.
HH: Are there any 9th Circuit appointments that you are working for that the White House has not yet cleared?
ML: I’m not going to speak to nominations that haven’t yet occurred or that might occur. But let me just say this, Hugh. There are a lot of good, talented people out there who are being considered, and I want to applaud the Trump administration for the work that they’ve done in populating the federal courts, and on the circuit courts in particular. You know, we’ve had a record number of circuit court judges nominated and confirmed during this Congress, and I think the Trump administration has done an exceptionally good job of finding people who want desperately to get to the right answer under the law, to figure out what the law says. That’s what we need, and that’s what this administration has produced.
HH: Last question. Rick Grenell is our ambassador-designate to Germany. He’s cleared the Foreign Relations Committee. Germany is in a crisis. Do you know if he’s being held up by anyone, why he has not been confirmed?
ML: I don’t know. I’m happy to find out, but I have no idea.
HH: Do you support his nomination?
ML: I believe I do. I haven’t been asked to vote on it, yet. I know of no reason why I would oppose him.
HH: Mike Lee from Utah, thank you for joining me.
End of interview.