Mike Lee defends impeachment vote in town hall meeting; also calls ERA part of ‘a radical pro-abortion agenda.’

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Mike Lee answers questions at a town hall in Draper on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020.

Draper • For 40 minutes, no one at Sen. Mike Lee’s first town hall meeting in Salt Lake County since impeachment mentioned his vote to acquit. Then Draper resident Chad Dutton decided to tell the senator what he thought — and received a somewhat testy response.

“We have an administration that, in my opinion, is the most deceitful and divisive we’ve had,” Dutton said. “It doesn’t help saying there is a deep state conspiracy out there [which Lee has blamed for the impeachment]. That deep state didn’t withhold money from the Ukraine and then ask for a favor.”

Dutton, a self-described political independent, then asked for his own favor.

“Would you, the next time you see Senator [Mitt] Romney, thank him for his courage” as the only Republican to vote for impeachment. Half the crowd cheered. Dutton also blamed the partisan divide in Washington largely on uncompromising stands by Lee and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz that helped lead to a government shutdown.

“I don’t appreciate your suggestion,” Lee responded. “People need to be able to disagree and do so respectfully without being blamed for the cause of all problems in government.”

Lee said Democrats have used the same tactics as him and Cruz. “They shut down the government, they just weren't blamed for it by most people in the mainstream media.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Mike Lee answers questions at a town hall in Draper on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020.

He added that the deep state — defined by the dictionary as an alleged secret network of nonelected officials and sometimes private entities covertly trying to mold U.S. policy — “does exist, by the way.”

Sarah Buck, a teacher, told Lee that she hears constantly from children who comment on the bad example that President Donald Trump is setting in things such as honesty and civility.

“Your silence makes it seem acceptable,” she said. “Everyone is watching, including children.”

Lee responded by saying Buck’s concerns show why federalism — spreading power among the states, and not centralizing it in the federal government — is important and helps to prevent anyone from having too much power.

“You’re not checking his powers,” Buck interrupted. “You regularly, regularly allow him to do things no president has ever done,” she said again with about half the crowd cheering.

Lee said he swore an oath to defend separation of powers, “and I defended it when I voted a few months ago to check his powers when it comes to the use of the National Emergencies Act.”

About 200 people packed into the Draper City Council chambers — and many who didn’t fit listened down the hall — for Lee’s hourlong town hall.

Among other topics, Lee attacked the proposed Equal Rights Amendment when he was asked if he would vote to remove deadlines for its ratification as the House recently did.

“I disagree with the Equal Right Amendment,” and even with its name, he said, adding that it is an Orwellian mischaracterization of what it would do. About half of the divided crowd also cheered that.

Lee said years of legal decisions already prevent the government from taking action against people based on their sex.

“By passing this amendment, we would be upending decades of legal precedent that makes these things clear — putting into their place uncertainty and putting into their place a radical pro-abortion agenda with which I passionately disagree with.” ERA opponents argue that it would force the government to fund abortions.

Lee also defended breaking with most other Republicans to restrict Trump’s ability to wage war with Iran. But at the same time praised Trump’s caution before resorting to use of the military.

“I didn’t expect him to be the least warlike president in my lifetime, and yet he is,” Lee said. “There has not been another president … who was more respectful, more cautious in the wielding of military power in modern U.S. history.”

Lee said he co-sponsored legislation to rein in presidential war powers because the founding fathers “went out of their way to ensure that going to war should be hard,” and only should be done after approval by Congress.

He also said military action in Iraq and Afghanistan has gone on too long.

“It’s time in my view that we wind those wars down,” he said. Lee added that Trump has said that as he talks with families after each soldier death, “he finds it increasingly difficult to justify, to ascertain what marginal benefit to American national security was achieved through that death.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Mike Lee answers questions at a town hall in Draper on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020.