In an Op-Ed for Bloomberg, pundit Jonathan Bernstein explains why he believes Republican Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) could be one of the few Republican Senators that votes to remove Trump in the impeachment trial.
Bernstein also argues “He might be joined in voting to convict by Utah’s other Republican senator, Mitt Romney.”
I had a Twitter discussion awhile ago in which I argued that Utah Sen. Mike Lee was one of the three or four most likely Republicans to vote to convict and remove President Donald Trump after a Senate impeachment trial. After Wednesday, I’m even more convinced of it.
That’s not to say that Lee is likely to vote to convict. Indeed, it’s very possible that all 53 Republicans will vote to acquit. And I haven’t seen any reporting at all suggesting that Lee is among the handful pushing for witnesses to be called and documents and other evidence to be collected and presented. Nevertheless, I still think that if there are (say) four votes to convict, Lee would probably be one of them.
Why Lee? Because he has a history of being concerned with overreach in the presidency and the executive branch. That came out again after senators were briefed on the Iran situation in the aftermath of the U.S. drone strike that killed Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, at the Baghdad airport last Friday.
Lee emerged from the secure location and absolutely blasted the briefers to the media, calling it “probably the worst briefing I have seen” on military matters and hitting hard against how “insulting and demeaning” it had been because “one of the messages we received from the briefers was, ‘Do not debate, do not discuss the issue of the appropriateness of further military intervention against Iran,’ and that if you do ‘You will be emboldening Iran.’”
This isn’t the first time Lee has dissented. He was one of a handful of Republican senators who voted against Trump on two measures that the president eventually vetoed: One to prevent Trump from transferring funds to pay for his Mexican-border wall, and another over U.S. support of Saudi Arabia and its allies in a proxy war in Yemen.
So he’s willing to oppose Trump, including by voting against Trump’s priorities, on issues relating to what he sees as outsized claims of authority by the executive.
It doesn’t take a lot of heavy thinking to conclude that a senator upset that a president would ignore the law (in the form of specific congressional spending decisions) over money diverted to the border wall might also be unhappy about a president who refused to send duly authorized military aid to Ukraine. Or that he might find it outrageous or worse if that president refused to cooperate with congressional oversight efforts to determine what happened to the money. In fact, it’s hard to imagine that Lee hasn’t made that connection already. (If he hasn’t, it’s another good reason for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to appoint Republican-turned-independent Rep. Justin Amash as one of the impeachment managers). The issues are pretty closely related.
And Lee’s electoral situation gives him a fair amount of room. Utah is solidly Republican, but it’s not very Trumpy. He might be joined in voting to convict by Utah’s other Republican senator, Mitt Romney. Lee isn’t up for re-election until 2022, when he certainly doesn’t have to worry about losing a general election because of some Trump die-hards staying home to punish him. He might have reason to fear a challenge to his re-nomination, but on the whole he’s probably about as safe as anyone. And as far as I know, Lee doesn’t have presidential ambitions of his own that could be destroyed by voting against Trump.
Still, to identify Lee as cross-pressured is to peg him as one of the handful most likely to vote to remove. Most Republican senators are going to think of the impeachment trial as an easy vote for acquittal. They aren’t going to feel pressured at all. (Perhaps they should, but I doubt they will). I don’t know whether Lee will join them, but if so I don’t think he’ll be entirely comfortable.