Heather Sundahl and Lisa Rampton Halverson: Lee used to stand against presidential ‘overreach’

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, questions former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 3, 2020. (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

Over the course of his career, Sen, Mike Lee, R-Utah, has consistently voiced a principled opposition to political “overreach.” A search of the senator’s website provides 61 results calling out executive or federal overreach. In 2013, Lee said, “We now see how determined the president is to expand the power of the federal government and his willingness to use that power to harm the country to get what he wants. Congress cannot allow this to stand.”

It is unsurprising that these concerns were voiced when the executive was on “the other team.” But Lee also spoke up when President Trump attempted an emergency declaration to siphon funding to his border wall. Lee repeated themes he had championed during the Obama administration, declaring, “Executive overreach — and abdication of Congress’s constitutional powers — is neither a Republican nor Democratic issue; neither a liberal nor a conservative one. It’s an American one.”

The leaders of Mormon Women for Ethical Government agree: Executive overreach is an American issue. We believe the years spent honing his expertise during the Obama administration should help the senator lead Congress in protecting Americans’ rights now. Under President Trump, the executive branch has regularly and repeatedly exercised overreach to the detriment of Americans’ national representation, constitutional protections, and First Amendment freedoms. Lee’s previous denunciations of such overreach are as critical today as they were previously.

In critique of Obamacare, Lee said, “What power the government has, it will use — and misuse — to advance its own interests, even if that means punishing the American people along the way.” However, Lee remains silent as Trump defies the law to advance his own agenda. Although the Constitution explicitly says congressional districts must be based on “the whole number of persons,” and multiple federal laws and the Supreme Court have upheld this interpretation, Trump recently signed a memorandum to prevent undocumented migrants from being counted in the decennial U.S. census. Ramifications go beyond red or blue redistricting: The census impacts planning and funding for schools, roads, and emergency services. This overreach advances partisan interests while “punishing the American people along the way.

Under President Obama, Lee criticized the “criminally incompetent or tyrannically corrupt” actions of the executive branch. These words should apply to Trump’s revelation during a Fox interview that he would sidestep Congress and force through decrees on health care, immigration, and “various other plans.”

“Even if Trump knew that his [decree] lacked legal authority,” The National Review opined, “he could get away with it for the length of his presidency.” For the president to intentionally enact decrees known to be unconstitutional would be egregious executive overreach.

Particularly worrisome is the use of unidentified federal forces to disperse protesters. After Trump declared himself “your president of law and order” and demanded governors deploy National Guard units and “dominate the streets,” troops scattered peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square for a Trump photo-op at St. John’s Church. In Portland, federal forces have arrested and removed protesters. David Graham of The Atlantic noted, “For decades, conservative activists and leaders have warned that ‘jackbooted thugs’ from the federal government were going to come to take away Americans’ civil rights with no due process and no recourse. Now they’re here — but they’re deployed by a staunchly right-wing president with strong conservative support.”

We hope Lee can see this president’s selfish “willingness to use that power to harm the country” as overreach.

Senator, we ask you to lead your conservative colleagues to support restrained federal governance. Speak out when the president sends troops to cities whose local leadership does not want them. Speak out when the president dismantles congressional oversight, defies Supreme Court rulings, and disregards long-standing norms ensuring state and local jurisdiction over education, public health, and elections. Speak out against any president “abusing his powers as leverage against the American people.”

Senator, as you have in the past, demand that the executive respect both the rule of law and the unalienable rights of every American. Your previous actions lead us to expect this of you. To abandon your duty violates multiple Principles of Ethical Government.

Again stand against executive overreach and for Americans’ well-being, our First Amendment freedoms and the Constitution that protects us all.

Lisa Rampton Halverson

Lisa Rampton Halverson is the senior director of education for Mormon Women for Ethical Government.

Heather Sundahl

Heather Sundahl is an op-ed writing lab advisor for the organization. Both women live in Utah.