The laughter was immediate.
A man named Peter wanted to know what Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Chris Stewart thought of President Joe Biden’s performance in his first 100 days in office.
Stewart started chuckling the second the question was read and gave his fellow Utah Republican the first crack at answering it. Lee leaned forward and stared directly into the camera recording this online town hall Wednesday evening.
“If we were to rate the president’s first hundred days in office on the scale of doing what his progressive, left-leaning base wants, then I’m sure his score would be off the charts. Look, he’s making [former President] Barack Obama look like Ted Cruz,” Lee said during their joint question-and-answer session.
Polls tracked by FiveThirtyEight.com show Biden with a 53% overall approval rating, which is not high when compared to Obama or to President George H. W. Bush, but it is higher than any rating President Donald Trump received in his term.
Seated in Lee’s Senate office, the two Utah lawmakers took questions via video, over the phone and through comments submitted online, such as Peter’s about Biden. Lee’s joke that included Obama, the former Democratic president, and Cruz, the conservative Texas senator, was just him getting warmed up. He had more to say about the president.
“This guy is moving so far to the left, it’s not even fair to everybody else who wants to occupy the space of the left’s greatest champion. So there are a lot of people praising him for that reason,” Lee said. “And while there are a small handful of things on which I agree with him, I’m agreeing with him a whole lot less than I expected to. He sometimes presented himself to the American people as something of a centrist. He’s governing like anything but that.”
By this point, Stewart was composed and ready to weigh in, saying Biden had “honestly presented himself to the American people as kind of incompetent.” But Stewart then implied he doesn’t think that’s the case.
“It’s pacified so many Americans and blinded them to this incredibly radical policy that he has initiated in the first hundred days,” said Stewart. He later added, “You got to give him credit for being aggressive and being fast and being furious and being radical.”
On Wednesday, they highlighted some of their disagreements with the new president.
They thought the $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid package, passed with only Democratic votes, was too large and not targeted enough.
They oppose Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan, because it raises taxes on corporations and spends money on items beyond traditional projects like roads, railways and airports.
They say the president should have kept some of Trump’s immigration policies such as one that barred unaccompanied minors seeking asylum at the southern border from entering the country.
And yet, during the wide-ranging hourlong conversation, they also ended up identifying an area where they side with the president. All three want to see the 2,500 U.S. troops still in Afghanistan brought home by Sept. 11. That position is not universally held, with people like Sen. Mitt Romney, arguing that it is an “error.” But on this, Biden, Lee and Stewart are on the same page.
“I don’t always agree with President Biden on everything. That might be an understatement, but I support his decision to get us out of Afghanistan,” Lee said. “We had a classified briefing in the Senate yesterday in which they outlined their plans for doing so. And I have confidence in that plan. To me, it seems readily achievable.”
Stewart noted that he supported the ongoing military presence when he was first elected to Congress in 2012 but said he doesn’t see a reason for it to continue any longer.
“I just reached a conclusion, we’ve done all we can do,” he said. “At some point, the Afghan people, the Afghan leadership has to accept responsibility for their own future.”