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Why Utah Republican Mike Lee And Democrat Ben McAdams Switched Sides On Iran

Headshots of Mike Lee and Ben McAdams
KUER file
Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee and Democrat Rep. Ben McAdams are voting against their parties on the War Powers Resolution that would limit President Donald Trump's power to unilaterally take military action in Iran.

Two members of Utah’s Congressional Delegation — Republican Sen. Mike Lee and Democrat Rep. Ben McAdams — are responding very differently to the Trump administration’s handling of the fatal airstrike against Iran’s top general. 

They’re both crossing the aisle to vote with the other’s party. 

McAdams voted against the Democratic War Powers Resolution that would limit the president’s power to unilaterally take military action in Iran. Lee said he would vote for the Senate version and is now co-sponsoring a bill with Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders to further limit that power. 

“The Constitution is clear,” Lee said. “Those who wrote it wanted to make sure our country would avoid needless conflict and they understood that presidential warmaking would be harmful to our form of government.”

This isn’t a new issue for Lee. He co-sponsored another bill with Sanders in 2018 to end the U.S.’s involvement in the war in Yemen, citing concerns over the War Powers Act. It was eventually passed by the Senate in 2019 and vetoed by President Donald Trump. 

“The Constitution's not partisan,” Lee said. “Standing up for the Constitution is not partisan.”

Lee isn’t up for reelection until 2022, but said that wasn’t why he took this stand. Still, longer, six-year terms allow senators like Lee to buck their party more often than their House counterparts, according to University of Utah Assistant Political Science Professor Geoff Allen. 

“He's not facing imminent reelection threats,” Allen said. “So I don't see this as being some like, big, big risk taking behavior on his part. I think it's just him acting out of his actual interests.”

Lee has joined a tradition of Southwestern congressmen acting as mavericks, according to Allen. They include former Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, former Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, and several members of the Udall family, representing Colorado and New Mexico in Congress. 

As for McAdams’ vote, the congressman said in a statement that the War Powers Act “already restricts the president's ability to engage in military conflict without Congressional authorization and protecting America and preserving peace are my priorities.”

Unlike Lee, McAdams is up for reelection this year in a Republican district he narrowly won in 2018. According to Allen, this could be an attempt to make up for McAdams’ controversial vote to impeach Trump and live up to his “people over party” message, but “generally speaking, American voters don't care that much about foreign policy. So I don't really anticipate this having really much of an impact.”

Allen added that most voters don’t pay attention to specific policy votes like this one — they’re more interested in broader policy positions. 

The Senate War Powers Resolution could go to the floor as early as Tuesday morning. Sanders’ bill to further limit the pPresident’s military power is still waiting on a vote in committee.

Sonja Hutson covers politics for KUER. Follow them on Twitter @SonjaHutson

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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