Utah Sen. Mike Lee bluntly told a national TV audience on Tuesday what he thinks about the second impeachment of former President Donald Trump just before the trial began.
“I think it begins with a lengthy diatribe against the former president, and I think it ends in his acquittal,” Lee told the national Fox News network.
He also said Trump’s inflammatory comments to protesters just before the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol are ‘not different’ than what some Democrats have said to crowds, and that “everyone deserves a mulligan” sometime for getting carried away and making such statements.
That came after Fox News played excerpts of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer; Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.; and Cory Booker, D-N.J., urging cheering crowds to get in the face of opposing members of Congress, to tell them they aren’t welcome at businesses where they may be seen or tell them that their stands may soon reap the whirlwind.
“It’s not different” from what Trump did, Lee said. “These are outgrowths of the same natural impulse that exists from time to time among anyone in this business.”
Lee added, “Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone’s entitled to a mulligan once in a while. And I would hope, I would expect that each of those individuals would take a mulligan on each of those statements because in each instance, they’re making it deeply personal. They’re ceasing to make it about policy. And instead they’re talking about getting up in people’s faces and making individuals feel perfectly uncomfortable. And that’s not helpful.”
Lee on Fox News also panned arguments — which were formally made later by Democratic House impeachment managers on the first day of the trial — that the Constitution allows an impeachment trial for a president who already has left office.
On Tuesday afternoon, Lee voted that proceeding against a former president is unconstitutional. Utah Sen. Mitt Romney was one of six Republicans who voted with all Democrats that the impeachment is allowed. That motion passed 56-44.
The margin shows that the Senate is not likely to achieve the two-thirds vote needed to convict and — as Lee said — that an acquittal is likely.
Romney said after that vote, “The Senate has the power to try all impeachments, and it is particularly clear in this case — where the House impeached the president while he was in office — that this trial is constitutional. As the trial proceeds, I will follow my oath to do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, and consider all facts and evidence.”
Meanwhile, Lee outlined his arguments about why he feels this impeachment is unconstitutional.
“The constitutional text itself is ambiguous,” Lee told Fox News about whether a former president may be impeached. However, “I think it should be read in an abundance of caution to make sure that it’s not abused for partisan political purposes in future congresses with future presidents.”
Lee said proceeding with the current impeachment could set a precedent that might allow presidents or other officials to be impeached years after they leave office, and then face such things as losing pensions or being barred from ever holding office again.
“If we start saying right now that there’s no time limit on the appropriate time frame for [when] you can impeach a former president, I think it will take us to a place that’s not good for the country,” he said. “What we need right now is unity, and this doesn’t help.”
House managers argued Tuesday that not proceeding with impeachment would allow a “January exception” to bad acts by a president just before they leave office, essentially allowing without punishment acts that earlier in their terms would be impeachable.
When Lee was asked if some of his worries about impeachment years after the fact might be avoided because Trump was impeached — essentially indicted — by the House while he was still president, Lee said doubts arise because the House never sent the articles of impeachment to the Senate until after Trump left office.
“They should have sent them over immediately. They didn’t do that,” Lee said of House leaders.
“The interpretation that they’re using, one that says it doesn’t matter when we try the president … doesn’t make any meaningful distinction between someone who has just left office and someone who has been out of office for a year or two years or much longer.”
Lee also was one of 11 Republicans on Tuesday who voted against a resolution outlining how to proceed with the impeachment trial, allowing it to begin. Romney voted to adopt that resolution and begin the trial.