Lee says Romney shouldn’t be punished for impeachment vote

He says ‘there’s enough room in the GOP for both of us.’

(Susan Walsh | AP file photo, pool) Utah Sen. Mike Lee is shown here in a Dec. 11, 2020, file photo. Lee is defending Sen. Mitt Romney's vote to convict former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial. Lee says Romney should not be punished for that vote because there's room for differing opinions in the Republican Party.

Sen. Mike Lee is defending Sen. Mitt Romney’s vote to convict former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial. Although Lee disagrees with Romney’s conclusion, he does not see it as a “cause for alarm.”

“Although Senator Romney and I usually vote together — and with a majority of Senate Republicans, we voted differently,” said the statement from Lee issued through his 2022 reelection campaign. “It shows neither one of us blindly defers to anyone.”

Romney was the first U.S. senator in history to vote to convict a president from his own political party when he was the lone Republican to vote for conviction during Trump’s first impeachment trial in February 2020. In the second trial, Romney was joined by six other Republicans who concluded Trump was guilty of inciting the crowd that attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. That riot left five people dead, including a Capitol police officer.

Romney has been the subject of much scorn from Republicans for voting against the majority of his party at the end of the trial. There has been a push on social media to censure him, with one effort saying he “misrepresented himself as a Republican” and accused him of being an agent of the “deep state” that opposed Trump. Other Utah Republicans have called for his resignation for his vote.

As the rioters stormed through the Capitol building on Jan. 6, Lee told The Salt Lake Tribune that Trump accidentally called his cellphone, thinking he was trying to contact newly elected Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville. During the impeachment trial, Lee, along with other Republican senators, consulted with Trump’s legal team to discuss their legal strategy before they began their defense of the former president.

Lee flatly disagreed with the calls to punish Romney for his vote.

“While Senator Romney and I sometimes reach different conclusions, there is enough room in the Republican tent for both of us — just as there is room enough for all Republicans in a general election, regardless of how they voted in the primary,” read Lee’s statement.

Lee’s words echo that of the Utah Republican Party. The state GOP issued a statement after the diverging impeachment votes by Lee and Romney, saying “diversity of thought” is a benefit to political parties, and warning against a “unanimity of thought.”

Lee’s public statement of support for Romney comes as he is preparing to run for a third term in the U.S. Senate next year. He is already facing opposition, as the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah launched the “Humans Against Mike Lee” campaign this week, aiming to unseat him. He’s also fundraising extensively ahead of next year’s race, with one email claiming he’s the top target of the anti-Trump “Lincoln Project” group.

As Lee sees it, differences in political thought will make the GOP stronger as they head into the 2022 midterm elections.

“The Republican Party should work tirelessly to take back the House and Senate in 2022. Having different perspectives within our party leads to more robust debate, which in turn produces more thoughtful policy outcomes — all of which will be a benefit to Republicans in future elections. … The tent of the Republican Party is open to anyone and everyone willing to support our shared, liberty-minded objectives,” wrote Lee.