I am admirer of my Post colleague Jennifer Rubin, so I was mystified by her recent assault on Sen. Mike Lee. I know Mike Lee, and he is one of the most impressive — and courageous — new members of the United States Senate. Jennifer writes that, unlike other newcomers, “Lee has yet to make a mark or demonstrate that he can be a skilled legislator and a force to be reckoned with in the Senate.” This is demonstrably untrue. Indeed, Lee made his mark and showed himself “a force to be reckoned with in the Senate” even before taking his seat.
As I reported in the fall, it was Lee who led the charge just a few weeks after the November elections to get Senate Republicans to adopt a ban on earmarks similar to the one that had been adopted by House Republicans in the last Congress. Even before he had set foot in his new Senate office, Lee began lobbying his colleagues — and, in a bold move for a freshman senator-elect, he sent an e-mail to Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (whom he had never met) formally requesting that when Republican senators voted on the earmark ban they hold a public, recorded vote instead of a secret ballot.
Lee knew that 25 Republicans had voted on the Senate floor to ban earmarks, and that the only way the ban could fail was if Republicans who publicly opposed earmarks vote to protect them in the secrecy of the GOP conference. He also knew that many were planning to do just that, and that the most powerful appropriators were working behind the scenes to defeat the earmark ban. The public and private pressure he put on the GOP leadership ensured that the ban was enacted. There are senators who have been fighting for an earmark ban for years. Lee did it before he had a desk, a staff, or a title other than senator-elect.
Shortly after delivering his maiden speech on the Senate floor, Lee went on to put 58 senators on the record in support of a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution — the first time the Senate had gone on-record on the issue since 1997. He is working with Sen. John Cornyn, a member of the GOP leadership, and others to pass the balanced-budget amendment this Congress.
Jennifer scores Lee for voting against a continuing resolution unless it includes credible steps to reduce our national debt, suggesting that his position is irresponsible and poorly thought-out. (Lee, she says, needs “to think systematically about his votes.”) Well, just this weekend, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declared that “not a single one of the 47 Republicans will vote to raise the debt ceiling unless it includes with it some credible effort to do something about our debt.” The consequences of failing to raise the debt ceiling, should the government default, would far outweigh those of a temporary government shutdown. Is McConnell irresponsible for leading his party to vote against raising the debt ceiling? How about the 22 Republican senators, led by Dan Coats of Indiana, who signed a letter threatening to vote against raising the debt ceiling later this year unless the president concedes to cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in the current budget negotiations?
Jennifer says that, when she talked with him, Lee spoke in “clipped sentences and seemed to struggle with explaining the consequences of his budget votes” — the clear implication being that he is out of his depth. With all respect, Lee is the son of a former solicitor general of the United States and grew up discussing constitutional law at the dinner table. He clerked at the Supreme Court for Justice Sam Alito, served as general counsel to then-Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, and as a U.S. attorney arguing cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. He’s no intellectual lightweight. If you want a sense of his eloquence and thought, take a look at this video of his speech at the Reagan Ranch in Santa Barbara to the Young America’s Foundation just after his election.
Bottom line: Jennifer did Mike Lee, and the conservatives he is fighting for, a disservice with her post.