Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Utah’s Senators Are On Opposite Sides Of The Impeachment Debate — Just Like Utah Voters

A side-by-side photo of Sen. Mike Lee and Sen. Mitt Romney.
KUER File Photos
Utah senators Mitt Romney and Mike Lee once again find themselves on opposite sides of the debate of an impeachment trial.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-UT, made headlines during last year’s impeachment trial when he was the only GOP Senator to vote to convict then-President Donald Trump.

Romney’s approval ratings back home took a nosedive but have since recovered. Now, he’s just as popular in the state as Sen. Mike Lee, R-UT, who’s been a Trump ally.

The way Utah’s two senators approach this year’s impeachment is indicative of the larger split in the state’s Republican party between voters who still support Trump and voters who want the party to move on.

The former president has never been popular here. In the past two elections, Trump performed far worse than Republicans typically do in the state. In 2016, he got 45% of the vote. In 2020, he got 58%. Republican presidential candidates usually garner support above 65%.

Romney and Lee have both been hitting the cable news circuit in the lead up to the impeachment trial.

“What is being alleged and what we saw, which is incitement to insurrection, is an impeachable offense,” Romney said on CNN’s State of the Union. “If not, what is?”

Romney added, though, that Trump deserves a chance in the trial to defend his actions.

He also said it’s clear the trial is constitutional, but earlier this week Lee voted against allowing it to continue.

“The constitutional text itself is ambiguous,” Lee, who used to be a constitutional attorney, told Fox News. “I think it should be read in an abundance of caution to make sure that it's not abused for partisan political purposes in future Congresses.”

Romney Republicans

Shelly Cluff is a Romney Republican. She’s 34-years-old and lives in Riverton.

Cluff said she was already a fan of his before impeachment, but after watching him vote to convict last year, “I definitely came away with more respect for him.”

“I didn't have a strong feeling yay or nay on impeachment,” she said. “But I was pleased to see Romney do that. I believe that he took a vote of conscience and thought he was doing the right thing.”

This time around, Cluff said she hopes Romney can bring other Republicans along with him to buck their party.

“Maybe they just saw that he lived to tell the tale,” Cluff said, “And therefore, it's OK to vote like that.”

As for Lee, Cluff said she started off really liking him when he took office 10 years ago, but she’s not planning to vote for him when he’s up for re-election next year.

“I've always liked his strong adherence to the Constitution,” Cluff said. “But I've really been disappointed at how frequently he adheres himself to Trump.”

Lee-Leaning Republicans

Lee is known to use his Senate floor time to give detailed analyses of the Constitution. Republican Tom Hendry, who’s 60-years-old and lives in Brigham City, has always liked that about Lee, as well as his alliance with Trump.

“I voted for Mike Lee and when I did it was for what he was doing and how he supported our [former] president,” Hendry said. “And he also works under the Constitution. Anybody who works under our Constitution I believe in. It’s these [politicians] that are flip flopping all around the Constitution that I can't stand.

Hendry said Romney’s impeachment vote last year went against the country’s founding document and against the wishes of heavily Republican Utah.

“His thoughts [were] only for his glorification and not for the people of Utah,” Hendry said.

According to a poll last year from the Deseret News, 49% of Utah voters felt positively about being represented by Romney after his impeachment vote.

The Religion Question

Romney said he made last year’s impeachment vote because he made a promise before God to apply impartial justice to the trial. Romney, like roughly 60% of Utahns, is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Some Romney supporters, like Cluff, said they appreciated that he used his faith to guide him.

“[On the political right], we revere the founders and people like [Abraham] Lincoln for the references to God and the way that they would talk about how that informs their morality and how that would inform their decisions,” she said.

But critics, like 74-year-old Tooele resident Maribeth Merton, said Romney was using religion as a shield for a selfish vote. Merton said Romney’s actions during this impeachment are even more insulting to their shared religion.

“Most of us believe, at least, in the Bible, where it says we don't judge,” she said. “His statement is: What we saw and what was alleged automatically indicates the president did initiate an insurrection. This is what he said before any evidence has been presented at this so-called correct trial. So he’s already judged it.”

If Romney votes to convict Trump again, his approval ratings could take another dive. But he’s not up for re-election until 2024, which could give him plenty of time for those ratings to rebound.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.