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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Sen. Lee clarifies his Ukraine and border votes during meeting with Utah legislators


From⁢ the⁣ heart of ⁢SALT LAKE CITY, Utah Senator Mike Lee emphasized to state‍ legislators the⁣ importance of careful and respectful legislative action on ​both domestic and international issues. He⁣ warned that hasty⁢ or improper actions could ⁢potentially ‌cause more harm than good.

During his annual visit to the Capitol on Wednesday, Lee⁤ urged ‍lawmakers to adopt a cautious approach to policymaking. He met with House and Senate⁤ Republicans in​ private sessions,‌ and with Democrats from both⁢ chambers in open caucus ‍meetings.

Lee’s visit comes ​a week after Senator Mitt Romney’s appearance on the Hill, where he addressed questions from legislators and the⁣ press. ‍Although Lee did‍ not hold a‍ media briefing, he did share his thoughts with the Deseret News over the phone.

“There is a tendency,” Lee noted, “to⁢ see everything​ as a problem to be solved when you’re⁤ in a position of power, even when some things are not ‍problems at all.”

Lee stressed that the ⁤power of government should be used‌ wisely and sparingly ‌to avoid⁤ exacerbating existing issues or creating new ones. He acknowledged that this often goes against the ‌pressure lawmakers face to quickly draft proposals ⁢without fully considering the appropriate role of government or ⁤the potential for ‍unintended ⁤consequences.

“If all you have‌ is ⁣an unchecked enthusiasm to ‍get something done, or ‌to pass a specific bill, or even just to solve a particular problem, you could ⁣end up causing as much harm‌ as ⁣good,” he warned.

Why did Sen. Lee​ vote against the ⁤border deal and foreign aid package?

Lee used this perspective to address concerns raised by Utah Democrats‌ about his voting record on border security and military aid ⁤to Ukraine.

Earlier this month,⁣ Lee spearheaded efforts in Congress to oppose a bipartisan immigration deal and a separate aid package for Ukraine,⁣ Israel, and Taiwan.

During his presentation to‍ Utah Senate Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Luz‌ Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, criticized both the‍ president and Congress for their inaction ​on the nation’s border crisis. ‌She expressed hope that the issue would be prioritized by Congress and not⁢ used as a political tool.

Lee agreed that the current ​situation presented a “significant opportunity” to address immigration⁣ issues. However, he stated that the border security deal, unveiled at the start of February after months of negotiations,‍ was not something Senate Republicans could support. He ⁢noted that they had “agreed to one thing and received another less than 48 hours before⁤ we were ⁤asked to cast the first vote on it.”

Lee remained optimistic that border ‍security legislation could‍ still ⁣pass the Senate, with or without foreign aid funding.

When ⁢asked by⁤ Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, what‍ would need ‍to ⁤be included in a bill for him to support additional aid to Ukraine, Lee said he⁢ had supported early ‌aid packages to Ukraine. However, he had ‌changed his stance on later ⁢versions because they included large‍ sums‌ of money that were untraceable ‍or not ⁣directly related to the “military mission.”

Lee stated that the most recent proposal⁣ to fund Ukraine’s defensive war against Russia contained nearly $8 billion for Ukrainian government operations. He said he could support a Ukraine aid package if it increased the ability to audit how money is used and included provisions “requiring‍ operational control of our own border.”

“It is offensive⁤ to many Americans, including me, that we’ve spent $113 billion so far, and we’re being asked to spend an ​additional $60 billion, on helping another​ country protect its‌ own border ‍when our border is insecure,” Lee⁣ said.

What did​ Lee share about⁣ his work in Congress?

House Majority Leader Jefferson Moss, R-Saratoga Springs, told the Deseret News that his caucus asked Lee how‍ to ​handle issues that highlight the division between state and federal rights, including energy production, air ⁣quality regulation, and land‌ issues.

“When⁣ you think back to the original founding of our ‌country, they were our representatives in Washington, D.C.,” Moss said. “It’s good ​to​ have them come back and report on how they’re representing our state and, on the other hand, there’s things‍ that we can​ do at the state level. Sometimes ⁣some of the pressure we put, resolutions we pass,⁤ actually help drive things at the federal level.⁢ So I⁢ think ‍it’s really good to have that discussion.”

Lee started both of his brief presentations with‌ House and‍ Senate Democrats by discussing bills he introduced that would reduce “red tape” preventing⁢ wide-scale production of ⁢generic biologic medicines and that⁣ would prevent warrantless “backdoor” searches of Americans’ private electronic communications gathered ​via Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

“These two bills in particular share a common theme in that they both involve measures to ‌correct features⁤ of existing law and existing practice by ⁢government under‍ existing law where the law itself, and the government itself, is creating the problem,” Lee told the⁤ Deseret News in an interview following his presentation.

What did Sen. Lee say about Utah’s⁤ primary election laws?

On Sunday, Lee urged ‍state lawmakers to amend or repeal a decade-old law that created an alternative ​signature-gathering route for ‍candidates wishing to secure their party’s nomination.

Lee said⁣ in a message posted on X that SB54, passed in 2014, had allowed candidates to bypass the ⁢party’s ⁣preferred candidate-selection mechanism, the caucus convention system, and ‌penalized parties that didn’t comply.

Lee has utilized both nomination pathways during‍ previous reelection ⁣campaigns, saying​ it makes sense⁤ for candidates⁢ to operate within the legal framework other candidates are also using. However, he told the Deseret News he opposed ​SB54 from the start because it is an example of state lawmakers overstepping their authority to the detriment of Utahns.

“Private entities should be able to govern themselves.⁣ And the state is ⁣commandeering that,” Lee told the Deseret News.

Lee disagrees with arguments that state-funded primaries are ‌necessarily better for democracy than ⁤internal party processes, ⁤both on principle and outcomes. He argues that state ​government should‍ not be regulating ⁤a party organization’s right of association and that signature-gathering⁤ primaries are biased toward independently wealthy and incumbent candidates.

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, who sponsored SB54, along with‍ now-Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, said‌ he respected Lee’s opinion but‌ that SB54 was a necessary step to preserve the caucus convention system against the ⁣prospect of a ballot ⁤initiative that would have completely eliminated it.

Accepting a less-than-ideal proposal in order to avoid an even worse outcome is‌ inherent to lawmaking, Lee acknowledged. But that ​doesn’t mean state legislators shouldn’t act now to roll back primary requirements and empower parties to determine their nomination process, according⁢ to Lee.

“Here 10 years later,‍ we’re ⁣not better off. This has not led to a greater democratization; if anything, it’s had the opposite effect,” Lee said.

Lee’s greatest concern is that⁤ political parties become “extensions of the ⁢state,” ​because ⁣regardless of a lawmaker’s good intentions, Lee said,⁤ when the state ⁤oversteps its boundaries or acts recklessly, ⁤it would ⁤often be better if it hadn’t addressed the issue at ⁢all.

“If you exceed, for example, the proper role of government in‍ general, if you don’t⁢ recognize any limit on what government is ‍or what⁣ government does, the task of lawmaking,” ‍Lee said, “can quickly become dangerous, even ‌weaponized.”

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