Ben Sasse

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Ben Sasse
Ben Sasse Official photo 114th congress.jpg
Official portrait, 2014
United States Senator
from Nebraska
Assumed office
January 3, 2015
Serving with Deb Fischer
Preceded byMike Johanns
15th President of Midland University
In office
December 10, 2010 – December 31, 2014
Preceded byStephen Fritz
Succeeded byJody Horner
Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Planning and Evaluation
In office
December 19, 2007 – January 20, 2009
PresidentGeorge W. Bush
Preceded byMichael O'Grady
Succeeded bySherry Glied
Personal details
Born
Benjamin Eric Sasse

(1972-02-22) February 22, 1972 (age 49)
Plainview, Nebraska, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)
Melissa McLeod
(m. 1995)
Children3
EducationHarvard University (AB)
St. John's College, Maryland
(MA)
Yale University (MA, MPhil, PhD)
WebsiteSenate website

Benjamin Eric Sasse ( /ˈsæs/ SASS;[1] born February 22, 1972) is an American politician serving as the junior United States senator for Nebraska since 2015. He is a member of the Republican Party.

Born in Plainview, Nebraska, Sasse holds a bachelor's degree in government from Harvard University, a Master of Arts in liberal studies from St. John's College and master's and doctoral degrees in American history from Yale University. He taught at the University of Texas and served as an assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.[2]

In 2010, Sasse was named the 15th president of Midland University in Fremont, Nebraska. In 2014, he ran for a vacant seat in the U.S. Senate, defeating Democratic nominee David Domina, 65% to 31%.[3] In 2020, Sasse was reelected to a second term. On February 13, 2021, Sasse was one of seven Republican senators to vote to convict Donald Trump of incitement of insurrection in his second impeachment trial.

Early life[edit]

Sasse was born on February 22, 1972, in Plainview, Nebraska, the son of Gary Lynn Sasse, a high school teacher and football coach, and Linda Sasse.[4] He graduated from Fremont Senior High School in 1990[5] and was valedictorian of his class.[6]

Sasse graduated from Harvard University in 1994 with a bachelor's degree in government. He also studied at the University of Oxford during the fall of 1992 on a junior year abroad program.[5] In 1998, Sasse earned a Master of Arts in liberal studies from the Graduate Institute at St. John's College. He also earned a Master of Arts, Master of Philosophy, and Doctor of Philosophy in history from Yale University. In 2000, The Mustard Seed Foundation selected Sasse as a Harvey Fellow.[7][8] Sasse's doctoral dissertation, "The Anti-Madalyn Majority: Secular Left, Religious Right, and the Rise of Reagan's America", won the Theron Rockwell Field[9] and George Washington Egleston[10] Prizes.[5][11]

Early career[edit]

From September 1994 to November 1995, Sasse worked as an associate consultant at the management consulting firm Boston Consulting Group. For the next year, he served as consultant/executive director for Christians United For Reformation (CURE).[5] During his tenure, CURE merged with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (ACE), and Sasse became executive director of ACE in Anaheim, California.[12]

From January 2004 to January 2005, Sasse served as chief of staff for the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Legal Policy in Washington, D.C. and as a part-time assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin, commuting to Austin to teach. Sasse left the Department of Justice to serve as chief of staff to Representative Jeff Fortenberry from January to July 2005.[5]

Sasse then advised the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in Washington, D.C., on national security issues from July to September 2005 as a consultant. He moved to Austin, Texas, to resume his professorship full-time from September 2005 to December 2006.[5]

From December 2006 to December 2007, Sasse served as counselor to the secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in Washington, D.C., advising the secretary on a broad spectrum of health policy issues, from healthcare access to food safety and security.[13]

In July 2007, President George W. Bush nominated Sasse to the post of assistant secretary for planning and evaluation in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.[14][15] The Senate confirmed him in December 2007[16] and he served until the end of the Bush administration, in January 2009. While at HHS, Sasse took an unpaid leave from the University of Texas.[5]

During 2009, Sasse advised private equity clients and health care investors and taught at the University of Texas.[17][18] In October 2009, he officially joined the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs' Center for Politics and Governance as a fellow, before being appointed president of Midland University.[19] While at Texas, he was critical of Obama-era proposals to expand public health care programs. He criticized public-option proposals as a step toward single-payer health insurance and health-care rationing. He supported a plan to lower the cost of Medicare by raising the eligibility age and cutting benefits.[20] He also coauthored a paper proposing limits to Medicaid reimbursements for hospital care for the uninsured.[21]

Midland University[edit]

Sasse was announced as the 15th president of Midland Lutheran College (now Midland University) in October 2009. At 37, he was one of the youngest chief executives in American higher education when he took over leadership of the 128-year-old institution in spring 2010. Sasse's grandfather, Elmer Sasse, worked for Midland for 33 years, mainly as vice president of finance.[22] The school was experiencing financial and academic difficulties; Sasse has been credited with "turn[ing] it around", rebranding "Midland Lutheran College" as Midland University, instituting new policies (including spot quizzes and class attendance), and "prodigious fundraising".[23][24]

Sasse was installed as president on December 10, 2010.[25] When he was appointed, enrollment was at a historic low and the college was "on the verge of bankruptcy".[22][26] During his tenure as president, enrollment grew from 590 to 1,300 students.[22][27] When nearby Dana College was forced to close, Sasse hired much of its faculty and enabled most of its students to transfer to Midland.[27]

When Sasse announced his intention to run for U.S. Senate, he offered to resign his post at Midland. Instead, the board asked him to stay under a partial leave of absence;[28] in October 2013, his employment contract was amended to reduce his pay.[29] Sasse stepped down as president of Midland on December 31, 2014.[30]

U.S. Senate[edit]

2014 election[edit]

In October 2013, Sasse announced his candidacy for the Senate seat held by Republican Mike Johanns, who was not seeking reelection.[31] As of October 2013, his fundraising total of nearly $815,000 from individual donors in his first quarter broke Nebraska's previous record of $526,000 from individual donors, set in 2007 by Johanns while he was U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.[32]

Upon announcing his candidacy, Sasse expressed strong opposition to the Affordable Care Act. His primary opponent, Shane Osborn, questioned the depth of Sasse's opposition to the ACA, publicizing articles and speeches Sasse delivered during and after the act's passage through Congress; according to the Omaha World-Herald, "Osborn's campaign appears intent on questioning whether Sasse is a true conservative."[33] The Osborn campaign cited, among other pieces, a 2009 Bloomberg Businessweek column titled "Health-Care Reform: The Rush to Pass a Bad Bill", stating that "There's an emerging consensus that this [an individual mandate] might be a good idea",[34] and a 2010 speech in which Sasse said Republicans would probably lack the votes to repeal the ACA, stating that "a middle-class entitlement has never been repealed", and opining that Republicans had failed to offer a viable alternative, preferring to stage "symbolic repeal votes".[35] Sasse's response was that in his articles and speeches, he was describing the political landscape rather than giving his own opinions on the ACA's merits; to a World-Herald reporter, he said, "I have never changed my position on thinking Obamacare is a bad idea".[33]

On May 13, 2014, Sasse won 92 of 93 counties[36] and secured the Republican nomination with 109,829 votes, or 49.4% of all votes cast; banker Sid Dinsdale came in second, with 49,829 votes (22.4%), followed by Osborn, with 46,850 votes (21.1%).[37]

On November 4, 2014, Sasse won the general election, defeating Democratic nominee David Domina with 64.4% of the vote to Domina's 31.5%.[38]

2020 election[edit]

In 2020, Sasse defeated Democrats Chris Janicek, who won the Democratic primary, and Preston Love Jr., who had the support of the state Democratic party. Sasse received 62.7% of the vote.[39]

Tenure[edit]

Sen. Sasse speaking at 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference.
Neb. Senator Ben Sasse addresses guests at an election night victory party for Governor Pete Ricketts.
114th Congress (2015–2017)

Sasse took office on January 3, 2015. He was officially sworn in when the 114th Congress convened on January 6.

116th Congress (2019–2021)

In February 2019, Sasse was one of 16 senators to vote against legislation preventing a partial government shutdown and containing $1.375 billion for barriers along the U.S.–Mexico border that included 55 miles of fencing.[40]

In March 2019, Sasse was one of 12 senators to cosponsor a resolution that would impose a constitutional amendment limiting the Supreme Court to nine justices. The resolution was introduced after multiple Democratic presidential candidates expressed openness to increasing the number of seats on the Supreme Court.[41]

117th Congress (2021–present)

Sasse was participating in the January 6, 2021, certification of the 2021 United States Electoral College vote count when Donald Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. In response, he blamed Trump.[42] He said that Trump "delighted" in the attack on the Capitol and was a broken man.[43] Sasse said that he would consider articles of impeachment if presented with them in the Senate, citing that Trump had "disregarded his oath of office."[44]

Sasse joined six other Republican Senators in voting to convict Trump on February 13, 2021.

Committees[edit]

Sasse serves on the following committees in the 117th Congress:[45]

Political positions[edit]

Sasse is considered politically conservative. The American Conservative Union's Center for Legislative Accountability gives him a lifetime rating of 94.[46] The politically liberal Americans for Democratic Action gave him a 2019 score of 5%.[47]

Sasse meets with Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett in October 2020

Abortion[edit]

Sasse's campaign website indicates that he is pro-life, stating "even one abortion is too many".[48] In 2019, he introduced the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, calling for unanimous support in the Senate for protecting babies born after failed abortion attempts.[49][50]

China[edit]

Huawei's CFO Meng Wanzhou, daughter of the company's founder Ren Zhengfei, was arrested in Canada on December 1, 2018, at the request of U.S. authorities. Sasse said that China is undermining U.S. national security interests, often "using private sector entities", and "Americans are grateful that our Canadian partners have arrested the chief financial officer."[51]

In 2020, Sasse delivered a commencement speech to his high school alma mater in which he attacked China over the COVID-19 pandemic.[52] The Omaha World-Herald reported that the remarks drew criticism from Sasse's Democratic opponent[52] and a board member of the high school who endorsed Sasse's Democratic opponent;[52] an official statement from the public school board disavowed responsibility for Sasse's comments.[52] A spokesperson for Sasse defended the remarks, reiterating Sasse's criticisms and saying that students were mature enough to hear the truth.[52]

Criminal justice[edit]

Sasse voted against the bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation, FIRST STEP Act, which passed by unanimous consent. The bill passed 87–12 on December 18, 2018.[53]

Donald Trump[edit]

Sasse was a critic of former president Donald Trump. In 2021, when the Nebraska Republican party considered censuring Sasse for this lack of support, Sasse responded "Politics isn't about the weird worship of one dude."[54]

In early 2016, during both major parties' presidential primary election seasons, Sasse announced that he would not support Trump should Trump become the party's nominee; he was the first sitting senator to make such an announcement.[55] Sasse questioned Trump's commitment to the U.S. Constitution, in particular accusing him of attacking the First Amendment; stated that Trump had refused to condemn the Ku Klux Klan; and suggested that Trump "thinks he's running for King".[56] He stated that if Trump won the party's nomination, he would vote neither for him nor for Hillary Clinton, but would probably "look for some third candidate—a conservative option, a Constitutionalist".[56] Sasse suggested that he might leave the Republican Party, saying, "if the Republican Party becomes the party of David Duke, Donald Trump, I'm out".[57][58]

Asked about Sasse's third-party suggestion, Trump replied, "That would be the work of a loser."[58] Several Nebraska Republican politicians, among them State Senators Bob Krist and Beau McCoy and U.S. Senator Deb Fischer, took exception to Sasse's statements. Krist called them "very immature" and said that Sasse should "quietly and in a statesmanlike manner allow the system to work out and provide the leadership that needs to be provided"; Fischer said that voting for a third-party alternative would produce a Clinton victory.[59] Krist later switched his registration to the Democratic Party, running as its candidate in the 2018 Nebraska gubernatorial election.

In September 2017, Sasse said he thought about leaving the GOP "every morning" and said he thought of himself as "an independent conservative who caucuses with the Republicans".[60] Sasse has called Trump a "megalomaniac strongman", has "called the president's tariffs on steel and aluminum imports 'dumb'", and "has described Trump's escalating trade war with China [as] 'nuts'".[61]

In March 2018, Sasse criticized Trump for congratulating Vladimir Putin on his election win,[62] saying, "The president of the United States was wrong to congratulate him, and the White House press secretary was wrong to duck a simple question about whether or not Putin's reelection was free and fair. It was not. The American people know that, the Russian people know that, and the world knows that. The White House refused to speak directly and clearly about this matter; we were weakened as a nation, and a tyrant was strengthened."[62]

In July 2018, Politico reported that Sasse had "quietly launched a new political non-profit group, fueling speculation that he might launch a Hail Mary bid for president rather than seek another term in the Senate". But Politico also reported that Sasse and Trump were talking multiple times each month.[61]

In January 2019, Sasse was one of 11 Republican senators to vote to advance legislation intended to block Trump's intent to lift sanctions against three Russian companies.[63]

Sasse has been criticized for lambasting Trump but voting in line with his positions. Dick Polman of WHYY criticized Sasse as "all talk, no action", saying that Sasse and other Republicans in Congress "continue to abet and excuse Donald Trump's relentless assaults on democratic norms and the rule of law".[64] Jennifer Rubin, in The Washington Post, wrote that Sasse and Republicans "now face voters increasingly upset about corruption and abuse of power, both of which will not abate so long as spineless Republicans hold the majority in both houses".[65]

Sasse voted to acquit Trump in his first impeachment trial in the Senate over his request of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that he start an investigation into political rival Joe Biden. Sasse said, "It's clear that the president had mixed motives in his decision to temporarily withhold military aid from Ukraine. The line between personal and public was not firmly safeguarded." He added that removing Trump from office would be bad for the country in the long term and that "removal is the wrong decision".[66] During the impeachment trial, Sasse voted not to call witnesses to testify.[67]

In August 2020, Sasse again came into conflict with Trump when Sasse referred to Trump's executive order authorizing stimulus after Congress failed to agree on a second COVID-19 relief package as "unconstitutional slop".[68] Trump responded by calling Sasse a RINO (Republican In Name Only)[69] and saying that Sasse had "gone rogue".[70]

In an October 2020 campaign town hall event, Sasse turned critical of Trump: "He mocks evangelicals behind closed doors. His family has treated the presidency like a business opportunity. He's flirted with white supremacists." He added, "The United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership" and criticized Trump for "the way he treats women". Sasse expressed concern that Trump's "stupid political obsessions" and "rage tweeting" alienate voters.[71]

In December 2020, when Trump pardoned many people connected to himself, Sasse said, "This is rotten to the core."[72]

Sasse acknowledged Joe Biden's win in the 2020 presidential election[73] and condemned Trump's efforts to overturn the election results.[74] He was the first Republican to criticize Senator Josh Hawley's plan to challenge the results during Congress's count of the electoral votes on January 6, 2021, saying such an action would "disenfranchise millions of Americans" and that it would "point a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government."[75]

Sasse was the first Republican senator to publicly support the 2021 efforts to remove Donald Trump from office, saying that he was willing to consider articles of impeachment because Trump had violated his oath of office.[76] Along with six other Republican senators, he voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial.[77] On May 27, 2021, along with five other Republicans and all present Democrats, he voted to establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol. The vote failed for lack of 60 required "yes" votes.[78]

Censure[edit]

The Lincoln County Republican Party in Nebraska censured Sasse for his comments about Trump's impeachment. The county chair lamented that state law does not allow Sasse to be recalled. "President Trump was 'impeached' in the House with no investigation, evidence or due process", Scotts Bluff County GOP Chair Kolene Woodward wrote in an open letter to Sasse about the decision to censure. "Your support for such a mock judicial proceeding reminiscent of Joseph Stalin is reprehensible.” Woodward added, "You were elected to represent the people of Nebraska who overwhelmingly voted for President Trump. Your actions are a selfish, political ploy." Woodward also expressed frustration that there was no way to recall Sasse from the Senate. "Unfortunately, in Nebraska we do not have recall", she said. "We don't have any way of recalling someone who goes to D.C. and does whatever they want, so we are also looking at [whether we can] add that in the future."[79]

Environment[edit]

Sasse has criticized what he calls "alarmism" over climate change and has said, "you don't hear a lot of people who put climate as a No. 1 issue... offering constructive, innovative solutions for the future."[80] He has said that "innovation" is the solution to climate change.[81][82]

Guns[edit]

In Sasse's 2014 Senate campaign, he received an "AQ" rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA). According to the NRA's press release, the rating was the most favorable that could be given to a candidate who had no voting record on gun-related issues. The NRA endorsed Sasse in the race.[83]

Sasse has said he could support "red flag" gun legislation only if it protects the constitutional rights of gun owners, doesn't take away guns without due process, and is limited to people who are convicted of domestic violence or other crimes.[84]

Health care[edit]

In announcing his Senate candidacy, Sasse expressed strong opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), calling himself "the anti-Obamacare candidate"[85] and declaring that "[i]f it lives, America as we know it will die."[31] In the Senate, Sasse continued to support repeal of the ACA. In 2017, with Republicans unable to develop a repeal-and-replace plan that could secure a majority in the Senate, Sasse proposed an immediate repeal with a one-year delay in implementation, and called on the Senate to give up its August recess to allow it to work on a replacement measure.[86]

In 2016, Sasse was the only senator from either party to vote against the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which was intended to address abuse of heroin and opioid drugs by providing funds to the states for treatment and prevention programs and by making the anti-overdose drug naloxone more widely available to first responders and law enforcement agencies. Sasse said he was "distressed by opioid abuse" but questioned whether drug treatment should be addressed at the federal level.[87]

LGBT+ rights[edit]

Sasse does not support same-sex marriage. After The Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for a state to ban same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, Sasse said, "Today's ruling is a disappointment to Nebraskans who understand that marriage brings a wife and husband together so their children can have a mom and dad. The Supreme Court once again overstepped its Constitutional role by acting as a super-legislature and imposing its own definition of marriage on the American people rather than allowing voters to decide in the states."[88]

Congressional term limits[edit]

Sasse pledged to support a constitutional amendment setting time limits on the terms in office for U.S. senators and representatives.[89] In the 117th Congress he cosponsored a bill for a constitutional amendment that would limit senators to two terms and representatives to three.[90]

Sasse has proposed repealing the Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Repealing that amendment would give state legislators the power to select senators, eliminating the requirement that senators be elected by popular vote.[91][92]

Books[edit]

Sasse is the author of The Vanishing American Adult (2017)[93] and Them: Why We Hate Each Other – and How to Heal (2018) ISBN 978-1-25019368-1. He also co-edited the book Here We Stand!: A Call from Confessing Evangelicals for a Modern Reformation with theologian James Montgomery Boice.[94]

Personal life[edit]

Sasse and his wife, Melissa (née McLeod) Sasse, live in Fremont, Nebraska, with their three children. Their children are homeschooled.[95][96]

Sasse was raised a Lutheran and baptized in the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.[95] As an undergraduate in the early 1990s, he encountered the teachings of W. Robert Godfrey at the Bolton Conference. Sasse identifies this as the time when he and his wife first began to embrace the "reformed faith".[97] He later became an elder in the United Reformed Churches in North America and served on the board of trustees for Westminster Seminary California.[98] He is a member of Grace Church, a Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) congregation in Fremont.[99]

Electoral history[edit]

2014 United States Senate election in Nebraska[100][101]
Primary election
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ben Sasse 110,802 49.29
Republican Sid Dinsdale 50,494 22.46
Republican Shane Osborn 47,338 21.06
Republican Bart McLeay 12,840 5.71
Republican Clifton R. Johnson 3,310 1.47
Total votes 224,784 100.00
General election
Republican Ben Sasse 347,636 64.34
Democratic Dave Domina 170,127 31.49
independent (politician) Jim Jenkins 15,868 2.94
independent (politician) Todd F. Watson 6,260 1.16
Write-in 446 0.08
Total votes 540,337 100.00
Republican hold
2020 United States Senate election in Nebraska[102][103]
Primary election
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ben Sasse (incumbent) 215,207 75.21
Republican Matt Innis 70,921 24.79
Total votes 286,128 100.00
General election
Republican Ben Sasse (incumbent) 583,507 62.74
Democratic Chris Janicek 227,191 24.43
write-in Preston Love Jr. 58,411 6.28
Libertarian Gene Siadek 55,115 5.93
Write-in 5,788 0.62
Total votes 930,012 100.00
Republican hold

References[edit]

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External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Michael O'Grady
Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Planning and Evaluation
2007–2009
Succeeded by
Academic offices
Preceded by
Stephen Fritz
President of Midland University
2010–2014
Succeeded by
Jody Horner
Party political offices
Preceded by Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Nebraska
(Class 2)

2014, 2020
Most recent
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. senator (Class 2) from Nebraska
2015–present
Served alongside: Deb Fischer
Incumbent
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by United States senators by seniority
73rd
Succeeded by