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Romney blames the ‘noise makers’ for gridlock on challenges like climate, AI and debt

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney speaks with Sutherland Insitute CEO Rick Laren during an appearance on campus at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Aug. 21, 2023.
Saige Miller
Republican Sen. Mitt Romney speaks with Sutherland Insitute CEO Rick Laren during an appearance on campus at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Aug. 21, 2023.

As University of Utah students funneled back to campus for the first day of classes, Republican Sen. Mitt Romney spoke to a room full of them about artificial intelligence and his irritation with legislators making more noise than policy in Washington D.C.

Rick Larsen, CEO of the Sutherland Institute, a Salt Lake City-based political think tank that organized the conversation with Romney, asked the senator if society is “making a mistake by politicizing everything.”

“Oh, absolutely,” Romney said. “It’s really sad.”

“Some people go to Washington to make noise and some go to make law,” he said. “And those who just go to make noise are getting to be a larger group.”

The partisan divide

Romney said “noise makers” exist on each side of the political aisle in Congress and neither are “interested in compromise or reaching common ground.” While he didn’t name any specific politicians, Romney said there are those who don’t have a track record of accomplishing much in Washington because they’re unwilling to work with others to pass legislation.

“And at a time when we face extraordinary challenges: AI, climate change, China and our debt, not to mention our social capital as a society,” he said, “making noise is just a little frustrating.”

Romney isn’t the only federal lawmaker from Utah who believes a loud minority is hindering progress in Congress. Republican Rep. Chris Stewart, who will soon be leaving office, mentioned similar frustrations during a conversation with the Sutherland Institute earlier in August.

“You have voices on both extremes that have become very influential. They're not in the majority, but they still have enormous influence,” he said. “And I'm afraid that's just the day we live in. It's a very, very divisive time.”

Stewart called being Speaker of the House “the worst job in the universe” because it’s just “an impossible job” to work with disruptive voices from either party.

As for Romney, it’s still an open question if he will be running for reelection in the Senate in 2024. The senator has been biding his time on making a decision and did not address it at all during his Sutherland appearance.

Artificial intelligence

The rise of artificial intelligence is catching the attention of Congress. But there isn’t an agreement on what AI regulation should look like or if there should be government intervention at all.

Romney said he’s “terrified” of the advancement. Although he said “we have no choice” but to let AI do its own thing because the technology will move quicker than Congress.

“People say, ‘Well, you need to regulate it.’ It's like what? A bunch of 70-year-olds in the Senate are going to regulate it? You know, I can barely operate my cell phone. I mean, how am I going to regulate it?” he said.

Romney does think Congress can regulate certain aspects of the technology, like what American companies do with it.

He said the U.S. could manage where semiconductor chips used in AI systems are produced to “help prevent the worst from happening.” Congress, he said, could also require certain testing to be done when a company finishes a big new update to AI “to make sure that it doesn't, for instance, allow people to take over all of our bank accounts or to shut down all of our infrastructure or to do other things that would be devastating to our society.”

But since AI is global, Romney doesn’t believe it’s possible to pump the brakes entirely on what the technology is allowed to do.

Romney also sees the benefit from an economic standpoint. While “there are some jobs AI will never have an impact on,” Romney said people can use the technology to their advantage.

“The key is to learn how to use it to make yourself more productive,” he said.

Saige is a politics reporter and co-host of KUER's State Street politics podcast
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