Utah Republican Party opts not to censure Mitt Romney, and instead praise Trump’s acquittal

In this image from video, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks on the Senate floor about the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. The Senate will vote on the Articles of Impeachment on Wednesday afternoon. (Senate Television via AP)

Sandy • Instead of censuring Sen. Mitt Romney for his vote to impeach President Donald Trump, the Utah Republican State Central Committee decided Saturday simply to praise the president’s acquittal.

But it still threw a few slaps at Romney in the resolution it adopted.

The 136 party leaders present from around the state, as part of five-hour meeting at the Salt Lake Board of Realtors building, debated proposals as extreme as calling for Romney’s resignation to as lenient as not even mentioning Romney as it expressed support for Trump.

The middle ground it actually took was passing a watered-down version of a resolution that now says “with zero evidence of a federal crime committed that rises to the level of removal of office, the U.S. Senate voted to fully acquit President Trump; Sen. Mike Lee voted to acquit while Sen. Mitt Romney voted to remove President Trump.”

The resolution expressed support for Trump’s acquittal, and thanked by name Lee and Utah GOP Reps. Chris Stewart, Rob Bishop and John Curtis for supporting the president. It added — in bold lettering — that, “We strongly disagree with the vote cast by Sen. Romney.”

It also added, “The Utah Republican Party calls on all Utah elected Republicans to work with President Trump to implement the conservative policies of the America First agenda that are helping our country succeed.”

Votes seeking to remove mentioning Romney in that resolution failed by large margins.

Conservative GOP gubernatorial candidate Greg Hughes said, “The wording is lot nicer than what I hear at my town meetings.” He said Romney’s vote comes up in every meeting he has with Republicans, and most are upset — so it’s important to show the party disagrees with his vote.

But Patrick Ketchum, a central committee member from Utah County, argued attacking Romney would divide a party that should seek unity.

“We need to be very careful when we consider proposals that would divide … the Republican Party’s influence in the state. Sen. Romney has a great influence with a lot of people who traditionally would be more supportive of other parts of the party” besides conservatives, he said.

The originally proposed wording, provided to the news media earlier, would have formally censured Romney for his vote. It also criticized him for using the pseudonym “Pierre Delecto” on Twitter to criticize Trump, calling that a “demonstration of pre-impeachment bias.”

The resolution had also said, in not-adopted wording, that Romney’s voting with Democrats led him to receive “praise and applause from Democrats on nationally televised interviews and the Democrat presidential debate, further distorting their abuse of the Constitution’s impeachment process.”

Another resolution that was dismissed would have called on Romney to resign immediately for his vote, which it said “betrayed the trust of the people of Utah and acted against the interest of his Republican Party.”

Another resolution that was defeated sought to support HB217 in the Legislature, which would allow the recall of U.S. senators. Legislative leaders have said that it likely will not advance this year.

While that committee resolution did not specifically mention Romney, it noted that senators “decide whether to convict or acquit a sitting U.S. president,” and the bill would allow recalling a senator for actions that have “grieved their constituents.”

Rick Pruitt, a delegate from Sevier County was among members who opposed that. “This is a knee-jerk reaction to what Mitt Romney did. Democrats will climb all over it, and we’re going to pay for it. We can take care of him at the polls.”

Utah Republican Party Chairman Derek Brown said the middle-ground resolution adopted “shows that as a party, there is collective support for the president. I think that ultimately, we have shifted as a party from sort of divisive rhetoric to more of an open approach to supporting the president and supporting his agenda and his reelection.”

What does the resolution adopted say about party support for Romney?

“It shows there are differences of opinion, but the party is still focused on support of President Trump and his agenda,” Brown said.

By contrast, Romney received a much warmer reception at a meeting Friday at the University of Denver’s School of International Studies. Former Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen introduced Romney and called the senator “a true profile in courage,” prompting a standing ovation, according to the Denver Post.

Romney is a member of the state central committee but did not attend the meeting on Saturday.

The central committee ended up essentially following a proposal made a few days earlier by Gov. Gary Herbert during his monthly news conference on PBS Utah.

He then opposed censuring Romney, saying he showed a willingness “to analyze all sides of an issue and then vote your conscience. Isn’t that what we expect every elected official to do?”

Instead of censure, the governor said, “I would recommend to people to say, ‘We don’t agree with your vote for these reasons,’ and put the facts out there why. And then move on.”

The action on Saturday also comes a day after Romney visited the Utah Legislature, and previous animosity among conservatives there about his impeach vote was not seen. The vote was not even mentioned in his meeting with the House GOP caucus.