Mike Lee (American politician)
Official portrait, 2017
|Chair of the Joint Economic Committee|
|Assumed office |
January 3, 2019
|Preceded by||Erik Paulsen|
|United States Senator|
|Assumed office |
January 3, 2011
Serving with Mitt Romney
|Preceded by||Bob Bennett|
Michael Shumway Lee
June 4, 1971
Mesa, Arizona, U.S.
|Relations||Thomas Rex Lee (brother)|
|Parents||Rex E. Lee|
|Education||Brigham Young University (BA, JD)|
|This article is part of a series on|
the United States
Michael Shumway Lee (born June 4, 1971) is an American politician, author and attorney who is the senior United States Senator from Utah. A conservative Republican, Lee has served in the Senate since January 3, 2011.
Lee is the son of Rex E. Lee, who was Solicitor General under President Ronald Reagan, founding dean of the J. Reuben Clark Law School and president of Brigham Young University. Lee began his career as a clerk for the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah before serving as a clerk for future Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who was then a judge on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. From 2002 to 2005, Lee was an Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Utah. Subsequently, he joined the administration of Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, serving as the general counsel in the office of the governor from 2005 to 2006.
In 2010, during the Tea Party movement, Lee entered the party caucus process to challenge incumbent three-term Republican senator Bob Bennett. Lee defeated Bennett and business owner Tim Bridgewater during the nominating process at the Utah Republican Party Convention, receiving 1,854 votes in the final round. The two highest caucus performers were then put before primary voters, with Lee winning with 51% of the vote. He then defeated Democratic candidate Sam Granato in the general election with 61% of the vote to Granato's 32%. Lee was re-elected in 2016 and is expected to become the dean of Utah's congressional delegation when Representative Rob Bishop retires in January 2021.
Early life and education
Lee was born in Mesa, Arizona on June 4, 1971, the son of Janet (née Griffin) and Rex E. Lee. His family moved to Provo, Utah one year later, when his father became the founding dean of Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School. While Lee spent about half of his childhood years in Utah, he spent the other half in McLean, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. His father served first as an Assistant U.S. Attorney General (overseeing the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice during the Ford Administration) from 1975 until 1976, and then as the Solicitor General of the United States (charged with representing the United States government before the Supreme Court during the first term of the Reagan Administration) from 1981 until 1985. Lee is of English, Swiss, and Danish descent on his father's side.
Growing up, Lee went to school with Senator Strom Thurmond's daughter, Nancy Moore Thurmond, and lived three doors down from Senator Robert Byrd. He was friends with Harry Reid's son Josh. Senator Reid was the Lees' home teacher. Lee recalls as a child how Senator Reid once locked him and Josh in their garage as a practical joke. According to Lee, the Reid family were the first Democrats he knew well and it was dealing with them that showed him the importance of being able to defend his political views in discussion with those who held other views.
After graduating from Timpview High School (Provo, Utah) in 1989, Lee attended Brigham Young University , receiving a Bachelor of Arts in political science in 1994. He served as the president of BYUSA, a prominent student service organization, and as student body president during the 1993–1994 school year, serving together with his father, Rex E. Lee, who was president of BYU at the time. Lee received his Juris Doctor from the J. Reuben Clark Law School in 1997.
After graduation from law school in 1997, Lee served as a law clerk to Judge Dee Benson of the United States District Court for the District of Utah. The following year, he clerked for then-Judge Samuel Alito, who was serving at that time on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. After finishing his clerkships, Lee joined the Washington, D.C. office of Sidley Austin, where he specialized in appellate and Supreme Court litigation. Several years later, Lee returned to Utah to serve as an Assistant United States Attorney in Salt Lake City, preparing briefs and arguing cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. He served as general counsel to Utah Governor Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. from January 2005 until June 2006, when he returned to Washington to serve a one-year clerkship at the U.S. Supreme Court with Justice Alito. Lee returned to Utah (and to private practice) in the summer of 2007, joining the Salt Lake office of the Washington, D.C.-based law firm of Howrey LLP. Lee focused on courtroom advocacy and constitutional law.
As an attorney, Lee also represented Class A low-level radioactive waste facility provider EnergySolutions Inc. in a highly publicized dispute between the company and the Utah public and public officials that caused controversy during his Senate election. Utah's government had allowed the company to store radioactive waste in the state as long as it was low-grade "Class A" material. When the company arranged to store waste from Italy, many objected to the waste being foreign and that it could potentially be more radioactive than permitted. Lee argued that the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution allowed the company to accept foreign waste and that the waste could be reduced in grade by mixing it with lower grade materials, while the government of Utah sought to ban the importation of foreign waste using an interstate radioactive waste compact. EnergySolutions eventually abandoned its plans to store Italian radioactive waste in Utah, ending the dispute, with the 10th U.S. Circuit court later ruling that the compact had the power to block foreign radioactive waste from being stored in Utah.
Lee is a conservative Republican. The New York Times used the NOMINATE system to arrange Republican senators by ideology and ranked Lee as the most conservative member of the Senate. GovTrack's 2017 analysis places Lee on the right end of the spectrum, to the right of most Republicans, but still to the left of a handful of Republican senators. Five ThirtyEight, which tracks Congressional votes, has found that Lee votes with President Trump's positions on legislation 81.3% of the time as of July 2018.
In October 2020, Lee came under fire for a series of tweets declaring that the United States is "not a democracy" and that "democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prospefity [sic] are." Commentators criticized his fundamental misunderstanding of the terms "democracy" and "republic," and noted the hypocrisy of such statements, given ongoing perceived efforts at voter suppression by the Trump administration ahead of the 2020 general election.
In 2017, Lee voted for S.J.Res.34, a joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission relating to "Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services" from taking effect.
In September 2018, Lee was among six Republican senators, including Jeff Flake, Pat Toomey, Rand Paul, David Perdue, and Ben Sasse, as well as Bernie Sanders, that voted against a $854 billion spending bill, meant to avoid another government shutdown. Said bill included funding for the departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Labor and Education.
In 2011, Lee voted to limit the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. In 2013, he voted to make it harder for Congress to put a price on carbon through a point of order opposing a carbon tax or a fee on carbon emissions. The measure did not pass. At a May 2016 event, he stated that it "has long been obvious that the Democratic Party's assertion that the science of climate change is "settled" is little more than a cheap public-relations ploy masquerading as a monopoly on scientific knowledge".
In 2017, Lee was one of 22 senators to sign a letter to President Donald Trump urging the President to have the United States withdraw from the Paris Agreement. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Lee has received campaign contributions from oil and gas interests amounting to $231,520 and from coal interests in the amount of $21,895 for a total of $253,415 since 2012.
On March 26, 2019, the Senate opened debate on the Green New Deal. When Lee took the floor, he mocked the plan as absurd, comparing it to an image of Ronald Reagan riding a velociraptor, and argued that having more babies was the real solution.
Senator Mike Lee was part of the group of 13 Senators drafting the Senate version of the AHCA behind closed doors. Senator Lee eventually came out against the bill, along with fellow Republican senator Jerry Moran of Kansas, bringing the "no" vote total among Republicans to four. This effectively stopped any chance of the bill's passage.
Since his election to the Senate in 2010, Lee has published four books:
- The Freedom Agenda: Why a Balanced Budget Amendment is Necessary to Restore Constitutional Government (July 2011, Regnery Publishing)
- Why John Roberts Was Wrong About Healthcare: A Conservative Critique of The Supreme Court's Obamacare Ruling (June 2013, Threshold Editions e-book)
- Our Lost Constitution: The Willful Subversion of America's Founding Document (April 2015, Sentinel)
- Written Out of History: The Forgotten Founders Who Fought Big Government (May 2017, Sentinel)
Mike Lee ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010. At the Republican State Convention, he received 982 votes (28.75%) on the first ballot, earning the party's nomination over Tim Bridgewater (26.84% of votes) and incumbent U.S. Senator Bob Bennett (25.91% of votes). Bridgewater, however, won the second and third ballots to win the party endorsement. Both Bridgewater and Lee received enough support to have their names placed on the primary ballot.
In the primary election, held on June 22, 2010, Lee became the Republican nominee by winning 51 percent of the vote against Bridgewater's 49 percent.
In 2011, Club for Growth gave him a 100% score. Only four other U.S. Senators received a perfect score: Rand Paul, Ron Johnson, Jim DeMint, and Tom Coburn. He also received a 100% Conservative voting record for 2011 from the American Conservative Union. The Heritage Foundation gave him a 99% score, ranking first only with DeMint. The only wrong vote he made, in the opinion of the Heritage Foundation, was voting for the GSE Bailout Elimination and Taxpayer Protection Act, which would privatize Fannie and Freddie. He received a Liberal Action score of 38%.
In February 2011, Lee was one of two Republicans, along with Rand Paul of Kentucky, to vote against extending the three provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act that deal with roving wiretaps, "lone wolf" terrorism suspects, and the government's ability to seize "any tangible items" in the course of surveillance. He voted in the same manner in May 2011.
In April 2011, Lee joined with Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and fellow Senate Tea Party Caucus member Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) to propose a plan they said would extend the financial viability of the U.S. Social Security retirement payment system. The proposal called for increasing the retirement age to 70 by the year 2032, and slightly reducing the benefits paid to upper-income recipients.
Criminal justice reform
In 2013, Lee proposed a bill with the aim "to focus limited Federal resources on the most serious offenders", together with Dick Durbin (D) and Patrick Leahy (D). The bill would reduce some minimum sentences for drug-related offenses by half.
In November 2018, Lee "called out" Sen. Tom Cotton, stating he was spreading fake news about the proposed First Step Act, a criminal justice reform bill. He referred to a tweet from Cotton saying that the legislation “gives early release to 'low level, nonviolent' criminals like those convicted of assaulting police, even with deadly weapons.” Lee retorted: “I highly respect my colleague from Arkansas but everything in his tweet and this thread is 100% fake news”. The "First Step Act does not 'give early release' to anyone. Anyone claiming it does, does not understand how the bill works", he continued. President Trump is a supporter of said legislation, while Cotton has remained an "outspoken critic". The bipartisan bill, drafted by Chuck Grassley, Lee, and Dick Durbin, passed the House of Representatives overwhelmingly, by 360-59 votes. The bill aims to "improve rehabilitation programs for former prisoners", and to "give judges more wiggle room" when sentencing nonviolent crime offenders, such as those involving drug charges. On December 18, the bill passed the Senate and three days later, it received a presidential signature.
Lee opposes the Green New Deal, claiming that "the authors of the Green New Deal proposal are trying to suggest people should not have babies and I think that’s atrocious." Deseret News noted, "the text of the [Green New Deal] resolution does not address population growth or suggest limiting the number of children people can have." Lee opposes a carbon tax to deal with climate change.
In 2018, Lee defended Jim Bridenstine's nomination to head NASA. Bridenstine's nomination was contentious, given that Bridenstine rejected the scientific consensus on climate change and had no background in science. In defending Bridenstine, Lee falsely claimed that NASA disputed that there was a scientific consensus on climate change.
In 2019, Lee gave a sarcastic speech on the Senate floor, in which he said the solution to climate change was to replace airplanes with fictional Star Wars animals from the planet Hoth and giant seahorses. Lee concluded by suggesting that the solution to climate change was rooted in having more children to create strong families that raised innovative children to be more environmentally aware and to engineer solutions to environmental problems.
As part of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in 2018, Lee co-sponsored a resolution, together with Bernie Sanders and Chris Murphy, "that would end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen's civil war". Interviewed by The Hill, he stated: "regardless of what may have happened with Mr. Khashoggi, we are fighting a war in Yemen that we haven’t declared, that has never been declared or authorized by Congress. That’s not constitutional." The Senate voted 60-39 to "formally begin debate on the resolution", which would require the President to "withdraw troops in or "affecting" Yemen within 30 days unless they are fighting al Qaeda."
In April 2018, Lee was one of eight Republican senators to sign a letter to United States Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin and acting Secretary of State John Sullivan expressing "deep concern" over a report by the United Nations exposing "North Korean sanctions evasion involving Russia and China" and asserting that the findings "demonstrate an elaborate and alarming military-venture between rogue, tyrannical states to avoid United States and international sanctions and inflict terror and death upon thousands of innocent people" while calling it "imperative that the United States provides a swift and appropriate response to the continued use of chemical weapons used by President Assad and his forces, and works to address the shortcomings in sanctions enforcement." He criticized Trump for ordering the 2018 missile strikes against Syria in response to the Douma chemical attack, stating that he lacked the constitutional authority to do so without Congress's permission because the United States was not in imminent danger. Lee supported Trump's decision to withdraw American troops from Syria in December 2018, saying that American forces should not have been in the country anyway without Congressional authorization. He said that American objectives in Syria surrounding the future of President Assad were not made clear by the Obama administration, and that he believed President Trump's claim that the Islamic State had been defeated.
Lee has long been in favor of ending American involvement in Afghanistan. He signed a letter in 2011 urging President Obama to withdraw troops from the country. In May 2017, he called into question a proposal from military leaders to send additional troops quoting the country, calling to mind previous times when more soldiers were sent to the country but which, according to Lee, failed to make a significant difference. Lee maintained that American involvement in the war has wasted thousands of lives and trillions of dollars.
In April 2019, after the House passed the resolution withdrawing American support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, Lee was one of nine lawmakers to sign a letter to President Trump requesting a meeting with him and urging him to sign "Senate Joint Resolution 7, which invokes the War Powers Act of 1973 to end unauthorized US military participation in the Saudi-led coalition's armed conflict against Yemen's Houthi forces, initiated in 2015 by the Obama administration." They asserted the "Saudi-led coalition's imposition of an air-land-and-sea blockade as part of its war against Yemen’s Houthis has continued to prevent the unimpeded distribution of these vital commodities, contributing to the suffering and death of vast numbers of civilians throughout the country" and that Trump's approval of the resolution through his signing would give a "powerful signal to the Saudi-led coalition to bring the four-year-old war to a close".
In June 2019, Lee was one of seven Republicans who voted to block President Trump's Saudi arms deal providing weapons to Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
Lee was criticized by Republican Sen. John McCain and others for being overly vocal in his criticism of other Republicans and for obstructing a deal to end the United States federal government shutdown of 2013.
9/11 Responders Compensation Fund
On July 17, 2019, Lee was criticized on Fox News by Jon Stewart and disabled construction worker, John Feal, for blocking a bill (along with Senator Rand Paul), that provided Victims Compensation Fund support for disabled 9/11 responders. The fund was near exhaustion. On the Senate floor, Paul objected to the request by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's (D-N.Y.) request for the bill to be approved by unanimous consent, but per Senate rule, such a request is rejected if just one senator objects. Lee had placed such a hold on the measure, despite it having 73 Senate co-sponsors.
Stewart and Feal, as well as leaders of the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Firefighters tried to get both senators to withdraw their objections. "The people from the state of Kentucky and the people from the state of Utah deserve better," Feal stated on Fox News. Stewart stressed, "We have to stand up for the people who have always stood up for us, and maybe cannot stand up for themselves due to their illnesses and their injuries. ... There [are] some things that they have no trouble putting on the credit card, but somehow when it comes to the 9/11 first responder community, the cops, the firefighters, the construction workers, the volunteers, the survivors, all of a sudden,... we gotta go through this." On July 23, 2019 Senator Lee was one of two Senators who voted against the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.
Flint water crisis
In 2016, Lee was one was of the initial group of senators approving $220 million in aid to repair lead contaminated pipes.
In February 2019, Lee was one of sixteen senators to vote against legislation preventing a partial government shutdown and containing $1.375 billion in funding for barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border that included 55 miles of fencing. In that same month, he joined with Senator Kamala Harris to remove the per-country cap on employment-based green cards and raise the cap on family-based green cards from 7 to 15 percent.
In March 2019, Lee was one of twelve Republican senators to vote to block President Trump's national emergency declaration that would have granted him access to $3.6 billion in military construction funding to build border barriers.
In 2018, Lee condemned the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which is part of the Organization of American States (OAS), for recommending that Costa Rica legalize same-sex marriage. The decision by the court was spurred by a petition by Costa Rica's President Luis Guillermo Solis who was working on ways to improve LGBT rights in Costa Rica. Lee suggested that the U.S., which is a primary funder of the OAS should use its money more wisely and do more to safeguard religious liberties worldwide.
In 2018, Lee blocked the reappointment of Chai Feldblum to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Feldblum, who was the first openly LGBT individual to serve on the commission, was blocked by Lee due to what he described as her "radical views on marriage."
In May 2019, Lee described the Equality Act, which extends anti-discrimination protections to LGBT individuals, as "counterproductive" and argued it "unnecessarily pits communities against each other."
In March 2019, Lee was one of twelve senators to cosponsor a resolution that would impose a constitutional amendment limiting the Supreme Court to nine justices. The resolution was introduced following multiple Democratic presidential candidates expressing openness to the idea of expanding the seats on the Supreme Court.
In September 2020, with less than two months to the next presidential election, Lee supported an immediate Senate vote on President Trump's nominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy caused by the death of justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Previously in March 2016, Lee had taken the opposite position by declining to consider President Obama's Supreme Court nominee during a presidential election year, citing "the contentious presidential election already well underway".
In January 2018, Lee was one of thirty-six Republican senators to sign a letter to President Trump requesting he preserve the North American Free Trade Agreement by modernizing it for the economy of the 21st century.
In November 2018, Lee was one of twelve Republican senators to sign a letter to the same president requesting the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement be submitted to Congress by the end of that month to allow a vote on it before the end of the year as they were concerned "passage of the USMCA as negotiated will become significantly more difficult" if having to be approved through the incoming 116th United States Congress.
Roy Moore endorsement and retraction
On October 16, 2017, Lee endorsed Roy Moore in the 2017 Alabama special election runoff, to fill the seat of U.S. Attorney General and former senator Jeff Sessions. Moore had been removed as the Alabama Supreme Court's chief justice in 2003, for defying a federal order to remove an illegal Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama Judicial Building. He was reelected as chief justice in 2012. In May 2016, Moore was once again removed from the bench by the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC), permanently via suspension for the rest of his term, making him ineligible for reelection, for ordering state probate judges to ignore a U.S. Supreme Court decision. In a 50-page opinion by the Court of the Judiciary, it denied Moore's appeal of the JIC's decision, and said Moore's removal was necessary "...to preserve the integrity, independence, impartiality of Alabama's judiciary." Nevertheless, Lee praised Moore for his "reputation of integrity" and said that he was essential to getting conservative legislation through the Senate. "That is why I am proudly endorsing Judge Roy Moore. Alabamians have the chance to send a proven, conservative fighter to the United States Senate," On November 9, 2017, Moore was accused of molesting a 14-year old and other girls under the age of 18 when he was 32 years old.
On November 10, Lee asked the Moore campaign to stop employing Lee's endorsement of Moore in its fundraising ads. Lee's spokesperson said of the sexual misconduct allegations, "If these allegations are true, Judge Moore should resign." Later that day, Lee rescinded his endorsement of Moore.
- Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts
- Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights (Chairman)
- Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights
- Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard
- Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security
- Subcommittee on Communications Technology, Innovation, and the Internet
- Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance and Data Security
- Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness
Joint Economic Committee (Chairman)
Lee married Sharon Burr in 1993. They live in Alpine, Utah and have three children, Michael Lee Jr, James Rex, and Eliza Rose Lee. Lee is a second cousin to former Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Udall of Colorado and current Democratic U.S. Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, as well as former Republican senator Gordon H. Smith of Oregon.
On October 2, 2020, Lee announced he had tested positive for COVID-19. A few days prior, he had attended an event for Amy Coney Barrett at the White House where he interacted closely with a number of other individuals who tested positive for the COVID-19. Lee did not wear a mask and video footage showed him hugging others at the event.
Lee has served on the BYU alumni board, the BYU Law School alumni board, and as a long-time member of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society and the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies. Lee earned the Eagle Scout award from Boy Scouts of America in 1989 and was selected to receive the National Eagle Scout Association Outstanding Eagle Scout Award (NOESA) in 2011.
|State Republican I Convention results, 2010|
|Candidate||First ballot||Pct.||Second ballot||Pct.||Third ballot||Pct.|
|Independent American||Stoney Fonua||27,340||2.45%||N/A|
- Lee-Hamblin family
- List of politicians affiliated with the Tea Party movement
- Utah Transfer of Public Lands Act
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- Fitzsimons, Tim (December 19, 2019). "GOP senator blocks reappointment of EEOC's only LGBTQ commissioner". NBC News. Retrieved May 19, 2019.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Mike Lee.|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Mike Lee (American politician)|
- Senator Mike Lee official government website
- Mike Lee for Senate official campaign website
- Mike Lee at Curlie
- Biography at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- Profile at Vote Smart
- Financial information (federal office) at the Federal Election Commission
- Legislation sponsored at the Library of Congress
- Appearances on C-SPAN
|Party political offices|
| Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Utah
| Chairman of the Senate Republican Steering Committee
| U.S. senator (Class 3) from Utah
Served alongside: Orrin Hatch, Mitt Romney
| Baby of the Senate
|U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)|
| United States Senators by seniority