Washington • President Donald Trump suggested Sen. Mike Lee apologize to Utahns for their other senator, Mitt Romney, and later tweeted a wild and false conspiracy theory linking Romney to Ukraine corruption.
The president also hyped a conservative Fox News pundit’s rant calling Romney an embarrassment who should get “the hell out” of the Senate.
On Tuesday, he told reporters, “Romney is a disgrace.”
The Louisiana Republican Party passed a resolution censuring Romney. A similar move is being considered by some Utah GOP leaders, although a planned resolution in the state Legislature has been sidelined by Republican leaders. The head of a conservative gathering in Washington warned that Romney’s “physical security” could be in danger if he showed up.
About a week after Romney became the first senator in history to vote to convict a president of his own party by saying Trump was guilty of abuse of power, the Utah Republican senator says he hasn’t paid much attention to the fallout.
“You know, I don’t follow that, so I can’t say I was surprised or not surprised because this is not something I keep up with,” Romney told The Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday.
Instead, Romney — now a target of Trump, the president’s family and supporters — says he enjoyed a weekend with his wife, Ann, as she competed in equestrian events in Florida as well as raising money for the GOP’s Senate campaign arm to help reelect fellow Republican senators.
Romney was the lone Republican to vote against the president during the impeachment proceedings, arguing that he found the evidence compelling that the president leveraged U.S. aid to a foreign ally for personal and political benefit. Before announcing his vote on the Senate floor, Romney noted he was likely ill-prepared for the backlash.
Trump has been leading that charge, questioning Romney’s faith and telling Utah Gov. Gary Herbert to keep Romney, “We don’t want him.” Fox News has followed up with a relentless stream of anti-Romney commentary.
“He’s the ultimate selfish, preening, self-centered politician,” said host Laura Ingraham.
Fox News' Lou Dobbs said Romney would be “associated with Judas, Brutus [and] Benedict Arnold forever.”
Romney has been doing his best to fly above it. Tuesday, just before a luncheon with fellow Republican senators, he seemed at ease.
“I made it clear during my speech that I expected that I would get some blowback," he said, “and I’m not surprised that I have.”
Meanwhile, back home in Utah, Romney’s decision to vote guilty on one count of the impeachment charges hasn’t rankled voters as much as the chattering pundit class has warned.
A new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll showed 49% of those surveyed saying they felt more positive about Romney’s choice than 40% who felt more negative.
The poll, which questioned registered voters on their feelings about Romney’s vote, showed 21% were proud to have Romney as their senator, 14% encouraged by him and 13% pleased. On the other side, 21% said they were disappointed, 11% embarrassed and 8% angry.
Some 11% weren’t sure, according to the poll that has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
Also Tuesday, a group called Student Republicans of Utah announced a new “We stand with Mitt” billboard near the campus of Brigham Young University.
In Washington, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he was “disappointed” in Romney’s vote last week but wasn’t holding it against him.
Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican and assistant majority whip, said he doesn't think Romney will face any repercussions by the chamber's GOP caucus.
“As far as his involvement in the Congress, I hope we never arrive at a place where a senator cannot vote their conscience,” Cornyn told The Tribune.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said it would all blow over.
“A lot of us were disappointed in his vote,” Shelby said. “But you know what, I’ve been disappointed and probably people have been disappointed in my vote at times.”
Romney, who was the GOP’s standard-bearer as the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, brushed off any concern about possible censure votes in his home state, nor a bill that would allow the recall of a U.S. senator. Tuesday, Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said both efforts were dead after similar disapproval was signaled last week by Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, and the governor said he opposed a censure resolution.
“After robust debate this afternoon, the House Majority Caucus collectively decided not to advance Rep. [Tim] Quinn’s recall bill or Rep. [Phil] Lyman’s censure resolution," a Wilson spokesman said. Instead, the speaker "will be presenting a citation that expresses appreciation for the president and his administration’s engagement in issues critical to Utah and that urges Congress to return to the important work before them.”
Romney flew to Utah on Friday and met privately with legislative leaders to explain his vote against Trump and, he said Tuesday, "I thought we had a very good discussion.”
As for the move by some members of the state GOP central committee to censure him and demand he stay true to Trump and his agenda or resign, Romney did not appear overly concerned.
“People are certainly free to express their point of view," he said, "as they feel appropriate.”