Amid a government shutdown and criticism from fellow Republicans for his op-ed expressing disappointment in President Trump, Mitt Romney took the oath of office and became Utah’s newest Senator on Thursday.
In a short interview with KUER before being sworn in, Romney discussed his priorities as Utah’s freshman senator, his thoughts about the partial shutdown and reaction from President Trump to his opinion piece.
Nicole Nixon: I have to ask first about the op-ed you wrote in The Washington Post, published New Year's Day, criticizing President Trump and his character and saying that he hasn't risen to the mantle of the office. I'm not sure that anybody was necessarily surprised by what you wrote, but why put that out there just days before taking office?
Sen. Mitt Romney: Well, I think it's important as I begin a new responsibility in the Senate to lay out my perspective on issues as well as my perspective on the people I'll be working with, how I'll intend to work with the president. I wrote an op-ed of the same nature in the Salt Lake papers prior to the primary. I think it's important for us to recognize that the leaders we choose — not only in government, but in churches and schools and homes — affect not just policy and appointments but also the character, the public character of our citizenry. This is a place where I think the president can be more effective in the future than he's been in the past.
NN: With Trump in charge, do you worry about the moral compass of today's Republican Party?
MR: Oh, I think the moral compass of the people of America is quite effective. But nonetheless, I recognize that young people coming along look to the actions of people in leadership in all sorts of positions. It's important in that setting for us to be honest with others to show trust and integrity to have an expression of comity and civility. All those things, I think, are important to be exhibited to the people of our country.
NN: The president responded to your op-ed. He said that he wishes you would be a team player. What's your response to that?
MR:I certainly respect the view of the president on many issues and acknowledge his right to express his views as I did.
NN: Do you think he was wrong in saying that you're not a team player?
MR:I'm not going to respond to the president's points of view. I'll let him express his views and others do the same.
NN: First order of business for this new Congress is to get the government reopened and there's some back-and-forth about how to do that in amounts of money for border security. What would you like to see and how much money and resources would you like to see put toward that?
MR: Well I'm one of those who believes that we do need a barrier on the southern border. I also believe we need to update our entire immigration system, it's really a mess. How we go about doing that is, of course, the big question and I think everybody recognizes that to get something done in Washington. It can't be a win just for one party or the other, it has to be a win for both parties. Democrats that are needed to vote in a piece of legislation have to win as well as Republicans, so that's the art at this stage — ‘how do you find a way to get Republicans or Democrats to both agree to the same piece of legislation?’ That's the hard work of Washington and doing a deal here requires that that effort.
NN: Would you support $5.6 billion (for border security)?
MR: I'm going to tell you that I'm going to look at any piece of legislation to make sure that it meets the needs of our immigration system. And certainly, the spending necessary for a southern border (wall) is something I will support.
NN: What are some of the first pieces of legislation that you want to run this year and how would they help Utahns?
MR: Matters relating to public lands are a high priority for me and for the people of our state. I'd like to see Utah have a much greater role in designations of public land and how the public lands are managed. I'm also concerned about wildfires and would like the federal government to begin to focus on how we can protect our homes and the lives of the American people against wildfires. And then there are issues that are national in scope and they relate to ... health care, getting the cost of health care down; education, giving our kids a better understanding of the sacrifice that was made for our democratic republic; and then the budget and the debt. The spending that we've had is out of control and in my view, we have to find a way to rein in the excessive spending.
NN: Republican Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker have both been critical of President Trump and they both left the Senate today, right as you are being sworn in. Do you feel any responsibility to keep those critiques up when you believe that Trump does cross the line?
MR: I don't take my signals from other people and how they may have approached their work here in Washington. I try and look at my own heart and abide by the principles I have. And I think it's important for us as a country to recognize that as we choose leaders we're not just choosing policies we're choosing the kind of character our country has. We'll have, looking back over our history, the George Washington chopped down the cherry tree. Sounds like a funny child story, but it nonetheless helps the character of the country. Abraham Lincoln — his extraordinary grace and an ability to reach people in the south after the Great War [sic]. (Civil War). These things have shaped our character and I think we look for that in the people who we choose to lead us.
Some questions and responses have been edited for length and clarity.