|United States Senator|
January 3, 2011
Serving with Mitt Romney
|Chair of the Joint Economic Committee|
January 3, 2019 - February 3, 2021
Michael Shumway Lee
June 4, 1971
Mesa, Arizona, U.S.
|Relations||Thomas Rex Lee (brother)|
|Parents||Rex E. Lee|
|Education||Brigham Young University (BA, JD)|
Lee began his career as a clerk for the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah before clerking for Samuel Alito, who was then a judge on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. From 2002 to 2005, Lee was an Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Utah. He joined the administration of Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, serving as the general counsel in the governor's office from 2005 to 2006. Lee again clerked for Alito after he was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 2010, during the Tea Party movement, Lee entered the party caucus process to challenge incumbent three-term Republican senator Bob Bennett. He defeated Bennett and business owner Tim Bridgewater during the nominating process at the Utah Republican Party Convention. Lee won the Republican primary, and defeated Democratic nominee Sam Granato in the general election. He was reelected in 2016 and became the dean of Utah's congressional delegation when Representative Rob Bishop retired in January 2021. Lee chaired the Joint Economic Committee from 2019 to 2021.
Lee was born in Mesa, Arizona on June 4, 1971, the son of Janet (née Griffin) and Rex E. Lee. His family moved to Provo, Utah, one year later, when his father became the founding dean of Brigham Young University's J. Reuben Clark Law School. While Lee spent about half of his childhood years in Utah, he spent the other half in McLean, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. His father served first as an Assistant U.S. Attorney General (overseeing the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice during the Ford Administration) from 1975 until 1976, and then as the Solicitor General of the United States (charged with representing the U.S. government before the Supreme Court during the first term of the Reagan Administration). Lee is of English, Swiss, and Danish descent.
After graduating from Timpview High School in 1989, Lee attended Brigham Young University. He served as the president of BYUSA[a] serving together with his father, who was then president of BYU. He graduated in 1994 with a Bachelor of Arts in political science. Lee then attended BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School, where he was a member of the BYU Law Review and graduated with a Juris Doctor in 1997.
After law school, Lee clerked for Judge Dee Benson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah from 1997 to 1998, then for Judge (later Supreme Court Justice) Samuel Alito of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit from 1998 to 1999. Lee then entered private practice at the Washington, D.C., office the law firm Sidley Austin, specializing in appellate and Supreme Court litigation. In 2002, Lee left Sidley and returned to Utah to serve as an assistant U.S. attorney in Salt Lake City, preparing briefs and arguing cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. He served as general counsel to Utah Governor Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. from 2005 to 2006. From 2006 to 2007, Lee again clerked for Alito, who had recently been appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Afterward, Lee returned to private practice in Utah, joining the Salt Lake City office of the law firm Howrey LLP.
As an attorney, Lee also represented Class A low-level radioactive waste facility provider EnergySolutions Inc. in a highly publicized dispute between the company and the Utah public and public officials that caused controversy during his first Senate election. Utah's government had allowed the company to store radioactive waste in Utah as long as it was low-grade "Class A" material. When the company arranged to store waste from Italy, many objected that the waste was foreign and could be more radioactive than permitted. Lee argued that the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution allowed the company to accept foreign waste and that the waste could be reduced in grade by mixing it with lower-grade materials, while the state government sought to ban the importation of foreign waste using an interstate radioactive waste compact. EnergySolutions eventually abandoned its plans to store Italian radioactive waste in Utah, ending the dispute, with the 10th U.S. Circuit court later ruling that the compact had the power to block foreign radioactive waste from being stored in Utah.
Lee ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010. When campaigning, he focused on the size of the federal government. He said the U.S. Constitution needed to be amended to create a flat-tax system and impose term limits on members of Congress. Senators would be allowed up to two terms and representatives up to six terms under the proposal.
At the Republican State Convention, he received 982 votes (28.75%) on the first ballot, to Tim Bridgewater's 26.84% and incumbent U.S. Senator Bob Bennett's 25.91%. Bridgewater won the second and third ballots to win the party endorsement. Both Bridgewater and Lee received enough support to have their names placed on the primary ballot.
In the June 22 primary election, Lee won the Republican nomination with 51% of the vote to Bridgewater's 49%.
Potential GOP primary challengers to Lee include Becky Edwards, former member of the Utah House of Representatives; Henry Eyring, teacher at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and grandson of Henry B. Eyring; Jeff Flake, former US Senator from Arizona; and former Utah State Senator Dan Hemmert.
Lee is an outspoken, energetic, controversial persona who can articulate constitutional principles with ... clarity. Consequently, he attracts disgruntlement and passionate support. Objecting to Lee's approach is easy but constructing a campaign to oust him is enormously difficult.
In 2011, Club for Growth gave Lee a 100% score. He also received a 100% Conservative voting record for 2011 from the American Conservative Union. The Heritage Foundation gave him a 99% score, tied for first with Jim DeMint. He received a Liberal Action score of 38%.
In March 2016, Lee endorsed Ted Cruz over Donald Trump in the 2016 Republican primary. He was the first senator to do so. At the time, he said, "I expect I'll be the first of many Republican senators who will endorse Ted Cruz. I'm confident more are on the way, and I welcome others to join." By June, after Trump had become the presumptive nominee, Lee had still not endorsed him, saying he needed "assurances" that Trump would not act as an "authoritarian" or "autocrat" and expressing frustration that Trump had "accused my best friend's father of conspiring to kill JFK".
On October 16, 2017, Lee endorsed Roy Moore in the 2017 Alabama special election runoff to fill the seat of U.S. Attorney General and former senator Jeff Sessions. Moore had been removed as the Alabama Supreme Court's chief justice in 2003 for defying a federal order to remove an illegal Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama Judicial Building. He was reelected chief justice in 2012. In May 2016, Moore was once again removed from the bench by the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC), permanently via suspension for the rest of his term, making him ineligible for reelection, for ordering state probate judges to ignore a U.S. Supreme Court decision. In a 50-page opinion, the Court of the Judiciary denied Moore's appeal of the JIC's decision, and said his removal was necessary "to preserve the integrity, independence, impartiality of Alabama's judiciary". Nevertheless, Lee praised Moore for his "reputation of integrity" and said he was essential to getting conservative legislation through the Senate. "That is why I am proudly endorsing Judge Roy Moore. Alabamians have the chance to send a proven, conservative fighter to the United States Senate," On November 9, 2017, Moore was accused of molesting a 14-year-old and other girls under age 18 when he was 32.
On November 10, Lee asked the Moore campaign to stop using Lee's endorsement of Moore in its ads. Lee's spokesperson said of the sexual misconduct allegations, "If these allegations are true, Judge Moore should resign." Later that day, Lee rescinded his endorsement of Moore.
On October 28, 2020, Lee compared President Trump to Captain Moroni, a heroic figure in the Book of Mormon. Lee told rallygoers in Arizona: "To my Mormon [sic] friends, my Latter-day Saint friends, think of him as Captain Moroni." Lee went on to say that Trump "seeks not the praise of the world" and wants only "the well-being and peace of the American people." His comparison met with backlash. The overwhelming majority of comments on Lee's Facebook accounts found it "shameful" or "blasphemous." In a followup Facebook post, Lee pointed out that he had praised Trump for his willingness to "threaten the established political order", but admitted that the comparison was "perhaps awkward" and recognized that his "impromptu comments may not have been the best forum for drawing a novel analogy from scripture."
After Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election, Trump refused to concede, and a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, Lee said that Trump should be given a "mulligan" (or a do-over) for his inflammatory political speech immediately before the storming of the Capitol. Lee later defended his remarks, saying, "my reference to taking a 'mulligan' was not referring to Trump, but to Democratic politicians whose inflammatory comments had just been played for me on the air [on Fox News]. I used the term... to avoid needlessly inflaming partisan passions." On May 28, 2021, Lee voted against creating an independent commission to investigate the riot.
Special Committee on Aging (2021-present)
Previous committee assignments
Lee is a conservative Republican. The New York Times used the NOMINATE system to rank Senate members by ideology; Lee ranked as the Senate's most conservative member. GovTrack's 2017 analysis placed Lee on the right end of the spectrum, to the right of most Republicans, but to the left of a handful of Republican senators. FiveThirtyEight, which tracks Congressional votes, found that Lee voted with Trump's positions on legislation 81.3% of the time as of July 2018.
In October 2020, Lee sent a series of tweets declaring that the United States is "not a democracy" and that "democracy isn't the objective; liberty, peace, and prospefity [sic] are." A Maryland economics professor argued Lee fundamentally misunderstood the terms "democracy" and "republic".
In March 2021, Lee said on Fox News that the For the People Act was "rotten to the core" and was "as if written in Hell by the devil himself". The act attempts to expand voting rights, change campaign finance laws to reduce the influence of money in politics, limit partisan gerrymandering, and create new ethics rules for federal officeholders. It has been criticized by conservatives, including Lee, who believe its provisions improperly take power over elections away from state governments and give it to the federal government.
In 2017, Lee voted for S.J.Res.34, a joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission relating to "Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services" from taking effect.
In September 2018, Lee was among six senators, including Jeff Flake, Pat Toomey, Rand Paul, David Perdue, Ben Sasse, and Bernie Sanders, to vote against a $854 billion spending bill that would avert another government shutdown. The bill included funding for the departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Labor and Education.
Lee was part of the group of 13 senators drafting the Senate version of the AHCA behind closed doors. He eventually came out against the bill, along with Senator Jerry Moran, bringing the "no" vote total among Republicans to four. This effectively stopped any chance of the bill's passage.
In February 2011, Lee was one of two Republicans to vote against extending the three provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act that deal with roving wiretaps, "lone wolf" terrorism suspects, and the government's ability to seize "any tangible items" in the course of surveillance. He voted in the same manner in May 2011.
In April 2011, Lee, Lindsey Graham, and Rand Paul proposed a plan to reform the U.S. Social Security retirement payment system. Workers born in 1970 and every year thereafter would have to wait until their 70th birthday to retire, and wealthy people would receive smaller monthly checks under the plan. The proposal called for increasing the retirement age to 70 by 2032, and slightly reducing the benefits to upper-income recipients.
In 2013, Lee, Dick Durbin, and Patrick Leahy proposed a bill aiming "to focus limited federal resources on the most serious offenders". The bill would reduce some minimum sentences for drug-related offenses by half.
In November 2018, Lee criticized Senator Tom Cotton for his stance on the proposed First Step Act, a criminal justice reform bill Lee supported. Cotton had said that the legislation "gives early release to 'low level, nonviolent' criminals like those convicted of assaulting police, even with deadly weapons". Lee responded that "the First Step Act does not 'give early release' to anyone. Anyone claiming it does does not understand how the bill works." The bipartisan bill, drafted by Chuck Grassley, Lee, and Durbin, passed the House of Representatives overwhelmingly, 360-59. The bill intends to improve rehabilitation programs for former prisoners, and to give judges more "wiggle room" when sentencing nonviolent crime offenders. The bill eventually passed the Senate and became law.
Lee has worked together with his Democratic counterpart, Amy Klobuchar, to hold Big Tech firms like Facebook, Apple, and Amazon accountable for their growing power. They are working to revamp century-old antitrust lawsuits.
We do find common ground on questions of policy, working out deals and contingencies we want to have. We get along quite well.-- Amy Klobuchar
In 2017, Lee was one of 22 Republican senators to sign a letter to President Trump urging him to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Lee has received campaign contributions from oil and gas interests amounting to $231,520 and from coal interests in the amount of $21,895, for a total of $253,415 since 2012. At a May 2016 event, Lee rejected the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, calling it "little more than a cheap public-relations ploy" by the Democratic Party. Lee opposes a carbon tax to deal with climate change.
In 2018, Lee defended Jim Bridenstine's nomination to head NASA. Bridenstine's nomination was contentious, given that he rejected the scientific consensus on climate change and had no background in science. In defending Bridenstine, Lee falsely claimed that NASA disputed that there was a scientific consensus on climate change. Since his confirmation, Bridenstine has said that he agrees with the scientific consensus on human contributions to climate change.
On March 26, 2019, the Senate opened debate on the Green New Deal. When Lee took the floor, he called the plan absurd, comparing it to an image of Ronald Reagan riding a velociraptor, and argued that having more babies was the real solution. He also claimed that "the authors of the Green New Deal proposal are trying to suggest people should not have babies and I think that's atrocious." Deseret News noted, "the text of the [Green New Deal] resolution does not address population growth or suggest limiting the number of children people can have".
As part of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in 2018, Lee, Bernie Sanders, and Chris Murphy co-sponsored a resolution "that would end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen's civil war". Interviewed by The Hill, he said: "regardless of what may have happened with Mr. Khashoggi, we are fighting a war in Yemen that we haven't declared, that has never been declared or authorized by Congress. That's not constitutional." The Senate voted 60-39 to "formally begin debate on the resolution", which would require the President to "withdraw troops in or 'affecting' Yemen within 30 days unless they are fighting al Qaeda".
In April 2018, Lee was one of eight Republican senators to sign a letter to United States Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin and acting Secretary of State John Sullivan expressing "deep concern" over a United Nations report exposing "North Korean sanctions evasion involving Russia and China" and asserting that the findings "demonstrate an elaborate and alarming military-venture between rogue, tyrannical states to avoid United States and international sanctions and inflict terror and death upon thousands of innocent people" while calling it "imperative that the United States provides a swift and appropriate response to the continued use of chemical weapons used by President Assad and his forces, and works to address the shortcomings in sanctions enforcement." He criticized Trump for ordering the 2018 missile strikes against Syria in response to the Douma chemical attack, stating that he lacked the constitutional authority to do so without Congress's permission because the U.S. was not in imminent danger. Lee supported Trump's decision to withdraw American troops from Syria in December 2018, saying that American forces should not have been in the country anyway without Congressional authorization. He said that the Obama administration had not made clear American objectives in Syria surrounding Assad's future, and that he believed Trump's claim that the Islamic State had been defeated.
Lee has long been in favor of ending American involvement in Afghanistan. He signed a letter in 2011 urging Obama to withdraw troops from the country. In May 2017, he called into question a proposal from military leaders to send additional troops there, calling to mind previous times when more soldiers were sent to the country but which, according to Lee, failed to make a significant difference. Lee maintained that American involvement in the war has wasted thousands of lives and trillions of dollars. In April 2021, President Joe Biden announced plans to withdraw all remaining US troops from Afghanistan by September 11 of that year. At a virtual meeting later that month, Lee stated his support of Biden's plan.
In April 2019, after the House passed the resolution withdrawing American support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, Lee was one of nine lawmakers to sign a letter to Trump requesting a meeting with him and urging him to sign "Senate Joint Resolution 7, which invokes the War Powers Act of 1973 to end unauthorized US military participation in the Saudi-led coalition's armed conflict against Yemen's Houthi forces, initiated in 2015 by the Obama administration." The group of Senators included Bernie Sanders, Rand Paul, and others. Trump was expected to veto the measure.
In June 2019, Lee was one of seven Republicans who voted to block Trump's Saudi arms deal providing weapons to Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
On July 17, 2019, Jon Stewart and disabled construction worker John Feal criticized Lee and Rand Paul on Fox News for blocking a bill that provided Victims Compensation Fund support for disabled 9/11 responders. The fund was near exhaustion. On the Senate floor, Paul objected to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's request for the bill to be approved by unanimous consent; per Senate rules, such a request is rejected if any senator objects. Lee had placed such a hold on the measure, despite its 73 Senate co-sponsors.
Stewart and Feal, as well as leaders of the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Firefighters, tried to get both senators to withdraw their objections. "The people from the state of Kentucky and the people from the state of Utah deserve better", Feal said. Stewart said, "We have to stand up for the people who have always stood up for us, and maybe cannot stand up for themselves due to their illnesses and their injuries. ... There [are] some things that they have no trouble putting on the credit card, but somehow when it comes to the 9/11 first responder community, the cops, the firefighters, the construction workers, the volunteers, the survivors, all of a sudden ... we gotta go through this." On July 23, 2019, Lee was one of two senators to vote against the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.
In February 2019, Lee was one of 16 senators to vote against[why?] legislation preventing a partial government shutdown and containing $1.375 billion in funding for barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border that included 55 miles of fencing. In that same month, he and Senator Kamala Harris removed the per-country cap on employment-based green cards and raised the cap on family-based green cards from 7% to 15%.
In March 2019, Lee was one of 12 Republican senators to vote to block Trump's national emergency declaration that would have granted him access to $3.6 billion in military construction funding to build border barriers.
In March 2019, Lee was one of 12 senators to cosponsor a resolution that would impose a constitutional amendment limiting the Supreme Court to nine justices. The resolution was introduced after multiple Democratic presidential candidates expressed openness to the idea of increasing the seats on the Supreme Court.
In September 2020, less than two months before that year's presidential election, Lee supported an immediate Senate vote to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, Trump's nominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy caused by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death. In March 2016, eight months before the 2016 election, Lee took the opposite position, declining to consider Obama's Supreme Court nominee during a presidential election year, citing "the contentious presidential election already well underway".
In January 2018, Lee was one of 36 Republican senators to sign a letter to Trump requesting that he preserve the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) by modernizing it for the economy of the 21st century.
In November 2018, Lee was one of 12 Republican senators to sign a letter to Trump requesting the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (the replacement to NAFTA) be submitted to Congress by the end of that month to allow a vote on it before the end of the year as they were concerned "passage of the USMCA as negotiated will become significantly more difficult" if it had to be approved by the incoming 116th United States Congress.
In 2018, Lee condemned the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which is part of the Organization of American States (OAS), for recommending that Costa Rica legalize same-sex marriage. The court's decision was spurred by a petition by Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis, who was working on ways to improve LGBT rights in Costa Rica. Lee suggested that the U.S., a primary funder of the OAS, should use its money more wisely and do more to safeguard religious liberties worldwide.
Lee married Sharon Burr in 1993. They live in Alpine, Utah, and have three children. Lee is a second cousin to former Democratic U.S. Senators Mark Udall of Colorado and Tom Udall of New Mexico, as well as former Republican senator Gordon H. Smith of Oregon.
On October 2, 2020, Lee announced he had tested positive for COVID-19. A few days earlier, he had attended an event for Amy Coney Barrett at the White House where he interacted closely with a number of other people who tested positive for COVID-19. Lee did not wear a mask and video footage showed him hugging others at the event.
Lee has served on the BYU alumni board, the BYU Law School alumni board, and as a longtime member of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society and the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies. He earned the Eagle Scout award from Boy Scouts of America in 1989 and was selected to receive the National Eagle Scout Association Outstanding Eagle Scout Award (NOESA) in 2011.
|State Republican I Convention results, 2010|
|Candidate||First ballot||Pct.||Second ballot||Pct.||Third ballot||Pct.|
Since his election to the Senate in 2010, Lee has published four books: