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Sen. Mike Lee Talks Regulation, Speculation at U Breakfast

Salt Lake City—On the morning after the 2016 presidential election, newly re-elected Sen. Mike Lee tackled questions about policy, power and what the future could hold.

At the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute’s monthly Newsmaker Breakfast, Lee’s discussion with Natalie Gochnour, director of the institute, as well as associate dean in the David Eccles School of Business, mainly focused on the results of the Nov. 8 election and what a Republican-controlled House and Senate—and divisive new president-elect—likely mean for the country.

“We saw a watershed election last night,” said Lee in reference in particular the presidential win of Donald Trump. “The American people spoke, and I think the 2016 election was a vote of ‘no confidence’ to Washington, to the establishment. This was a change-agent type of election.”

Although Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won in terms of the popular vote, Lee compared that advantage to Trump’s successful win of the requisite number of electoral votes to comparing one football team’s total yardage in a game to the other team’s final winning score.

“The electoral vote is the one that puts someone in the White House—or doesn’t put someone in the White House,” he said.

Between Trump’s win and the majority wins for both the House and Senate, the Republican Party holds the advantage in all three sections of the executive and legislative branches, a red sweep that hasn’t happened since the days of George W. Bush’s presidency. Lee said the across-the-board advantage would likely allow the party to pass policies and create reforms stymied in recent years by gridlocked mixed-party power.

“In particular, I think things like tax reform, health care reform, are going to be possible in a way they weren’t before,” he said.

Likely an early order of business will be an attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. While the ACA was originally passed with virtually no bi-partisan support, Lee said he hopes whatever this House and Senate comes up with to replace the act will have support from both sides of the aisle—which would help make the bill more beneficial to all parties as well as make it easier to pass. One good early sign, he said, is the fact that 25 Democratic legislators from states where the ACA is unpopular are up for re-election in 2018.

“I think that will further incentivize Democrats to cross party lines and give bi-partisan support,” he said.

However, he warned, for a red-majority legislature to be able to make a real impact, lawmakers need to take care to focus on solving issues and problems, rather than appear to predominantly want to hold onto power. The latter was a major cause of the last red-majority legislature being ousted, he said.

“This could be a good thing for the party if we could enact meaningful change. If not, it might be a short-lived victory,” he said.

In terms of the president-elect himself, Lee acknowledged that many have expressed concern for Trump, whose bluster and at-times incendiary comments made his campaign one of extreme divisiveness across both political parties. The result of the election, however, Lee said, suggests the slim majority of Americans—and Utahns, more than 45 percent of whom gave the businessman their votes—were more concerned about the failure of the existing political structure than taking Trump seriously on every contentious point he made during his campaign.

“There’s been a lot of angst that’s built up and people have seen, whether they put it into words or not, that the system has made the wealthy wealthier. … Internally, I think people understand something’s wrong in Washington, which is why they broke it up [with Trump],” he said.

Lee himself voted for Independent candidate Evan McMullin, a “protest vote,” he said, against Trump, of whom he was highly and publicly critical during the race.

But for those who were concerned with the results of the election, Lee said the balance of national power is such that it takes multiple bodies working together to make significant changes to the country.

“This is one of the reasons we have separation of power, the three branches of government. The job of each branch is to put checks on the other two,” he said. “Don’t assume just because the person who’s been elected president of the United States doesn’t share your world view means the country has gone in a different direction.

Lee added that, along with Trump’s unconventional campaign and unexpected win, his presidency could also prove to be surprisingly successful.

“I’m always hoping for hope; I’m always hoping for anything that signifies change in a positive direction. … I’m hopeful we can find areas of agreement with our new president,” he said. “Insofar as he pursues policies that are in line with the Constitution and the balance of power, I think this president-elect can unite not only the Republican Party but the American people.”