Utah Sen. Mike Lee almost sounded Wednesday like he was echoing Ronald Reagan’s famous taunt when he told Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down that wall” separating Berlin — except that Lee wants congressional leaders to tear down a new wall around the U.S. Capitol.
“I’m encouraging the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, to take down this wall. It doesn’t belong here. Get rid of it and get rid of it now,” Lee said.
That came during a virtual town hall meeting Wednesday evening, where Lee sounded off about the unintentional message that he says Congress is sending when after the Jan. 6 riots there it installed an armed fence around the U.S. Capitol, congressional office buildings and the Supreme Court.
“This is not a place that we should be militarizing,” he said, “I understand why [fence segments] were put in place. We had some horrible things happen” during the riot.
But Lee complained the federal government is paying $1.9 million a week to rent fence segments that surround the Capitol complex, which he said are tied together and topped by razor wire.
That “feels like you’re entering either a high security U.S. military installation or some type of prison compound,” Lee said. “It sends the opposite of the signal that we want to send to U.S. citizens: that this is some sort of impenetrable fortress where the American people are not welcome.”
He also complained that National Guard troops guarding the fence are carrying unloaded weapons.
“They have been directed not to attach ammunition magazines to their weapons,” he said. “Look, if you if you’re going to have soldiers there, if you’re going to militarize the area immediately around the Capitol, if you’re going to have them armed to the gills with machine guns, there better be a good enough reason to also have those weapons armed and loaded and ready to go,” he said.
Lee complained that it is difficult to get in and out of the fenced perimeter that is expensive, poorly protected and sends a wrong message.
“This this is absolutely baffling to me. It’s unacceptable,” he said.
Also during the town hall meeting, Lee said he was not inconsistent last week when he defended Sen. Mitt Romney for making a decision to vote to convict Donald Trump while Lee himself voted to acquit.
“I disagree strongly with the decision Mitt Romney made,” he said.
“Not everybody is going to agree on every issue all the time, even members of my own party. ... I myself have been in the position many times when I’ve been in the minority among Republicans, sometimes alone among Republicans,” Lee said.
So when someone like Romney votes differently than a majority of Republicans, Lee said, it “doesn’t mean you can’t work with them. It just means you disagree with them on that vote. Now, this was a big one. ... But there are other issues to work on. You’ve got to move forward. I don’t think its good for our republic to presuppose you can’t work with someone because you disagree on another issue. That’s folly.”