More than a hundred people gathered on March 4 at Jeanne Rose Wagner Hall in Salt Lake to rally support for Sen. Mike Lee as he seeks reelection.
The “Delegate Speaker Series,” organized by PAC Friends of Mike Lee, hosted Lee, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky and South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem. The politicians discussed the importance of state leadership and expressed concern of the federal government overstepping its power, particularly with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lee has represented Utah in the U.S. Senate since 2011. His GOP challengers include former state legislator Becky Edwards and longtime community leader Ally Isom. Evan McMullin is running as an independent. Democrat and former U.S. State Department official Kael Weston is also in the race.
Lee said the reason he is running for reelection is because “the federal government has gotten too big and too expensive because it’s doing too many things it was never intended to do.” Lee suggested that federal politicians gain a lot of power during national emergencies, and he used the pandemic as a recent example. He described the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates as “immoral.”
On Jan. 13, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the mandate requiring employees at large companies with 100 or more workers to be vaccinated or masked and tested weekly. Lower courts have disagreed with the mandate for federal employees, with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruling to maintain a block on it on Feb. 9.
Some of the discussion was aimed at Chief Medical Advisor to the President Dr. Anthony Fauci’s decisions during the pandemic. Lee, who received a vaccine, joked that he should have “flight powers” since he’s had the virus and been vaccinated.
“Recovery is when Anthony Fauci loses his job,” Paul said, describing him as a “representative of collectivism” and “do as you’re told.”
Paul said he’s not against vaccines and the only reason he didn’t receive one is because he’s already had the virus. “But that’s my business, you can still get vaccinated. The thing about liberty is we all have our own opinions,” Paul said.
Fauci and Paul have clashed multiple times over the pandemic, with the senator accusing Fauci of lying about its origin and claiming he tried to “take down” some scientists who disagreed with him, The Associated Press reported.
Fauci refuted these claims and suggested that they’ve encouraged threats against his life.
“What happens when (Paul) gets out and accuses me of things that are completely untrue,” Fauci said during a Jan. 11 Senate hearing, “is that all of a sudden that kindles the crazies out there, and I have … threats upon my life, harassment of my family and my children with obscene phone calls because people are lying about me.”
The speakers suggested that national emergencies like the pandemic reflect too much federal power. “All socialism starts out as emergency socialism,” Lee said. “Emergency begets consolidation of power.”
One way Lee wants to put a check on federal power is reforming the National Emergencies Act. “The National Emergencies Act is like this loaded up weapon without a safety. It’s just being left there on the table. Presidents use it all the time,” he said.
Lee introduced S241 or the “Article One Act” in February 2021, which would reclaim certain legislative powers designated to the executive branch by the National Emergencies Act of 1976, according to a press release.
Another bill, S2391 or the “The National Security Powers Act of 2021” sponsored by Lee, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., would limit “presidential authorities related to, and increases congressional oversight of, introducing U.S. armed forces into hostilities, arms transactions, and national emergencies.” The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on July 20, 2021.
Paul said he’s against consolidation of power, adding that the checks and balances of the Constitution are a lot of what prevents emergency from getting out of hand.
“At the drop of a hat, President Biden could decide to declare a national emergency on climate change,” Lee said. “And before you know it, there would be climate (change) things happening all over the place that would dramatically change things in a legislative way.”
Lee said the purpose of the Constitution is to protect citizens from a dangerous accumulation of power in the hands of the few. He referenced James Madison in Federalist No. 51 who said government reflects human nature. Madison wrote that government wouldn’t be necessary if men were angels.
“If human beings were angels, we wouldn’t need government at all,” Lee said. “It would be angels and it would be awesome.”
Noem, who represented South Dakota in the U.S. House of Representatives before being elected as the state’s governor in 2018, said the federal government has infiltrated every area of people’s lives on the state and local level. She has faced criticism for a more “hands-off” approach to the pandemic and is against vaccine and mask mandates.
According to December 2021 data from the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, South Dakota was tied with Montana for the fourth lowest unemployment rates at 2.9%. New York Times data ranks the state as having the 15th highest all-time COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people.
As governor during the pandemic, she said she felt she could trust citizens to use personal responsibility and make the best decisions for themselves. “Leadership matters. It matters and you’ve got to have leaders there that fight this federal government intrusion into our everyday lives.”
For Lee and Paul, it’s more important to be liked at home than in Washington. “So if you’re doing the right thing, you’ll be liked at home, and not so much in Washington and that’s where we’ve found our comfort zone,” Lee said.
Peter Snyder, a BYU senior studying political science, is one of Lee’s former Washington D.C. interns who attended the event. He’s supporting Lee because he feels the senator is very personable and listens to Utahns’ concerns. “He knows the people of Utah really well and wants them to be heard in D.C.,” Snyder said.
Former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes encouraged supporters to attend their caucus meetings on March 8 and consider running as delegates. “Senator Lee needs good delegates,” he said. Hughes also asked those in attendance to donate to Lee’s campaign. Attendees pledged to nominate Lee in the primary election and received merchandise and yard signs.
Utah’s primary election will be on Tuesday, June 28.