Rep. Blake Moore returned to his alma mater, the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, for a town hall on Thursday. He and his staffers were on a tour of Utah’s 1st Congressional District, which he represents, lining up five events for constituents this week.

Since November last year, Moore has stepped into a new role as the vice chair of the Republican Conference.

“To be in leadership is a new thing for Utah and I think they’re seeing that I’m a productive member that’s driving good, strong conservative policy,” Moore told the Deseret News in an interview before the town hall.

“I’m not getting bogged down in the messaging and the rhetoric. I’m actually trying to solve problems back there and that’s the way I think the Utah sensibility is for the most part.”

In the interview, Moore discussed the possibility of a government shutdown, the future of the border security deal, and the issue on top of his mind: taxes.

A government shutdown?

Last year, lawmakers passed stopgap measures to keep the government open, but those end on March 1 and March 8. Moore said a government shutdown is “probably the third option.”

“The first (option) is finalizing appropriations,” he told the Deseret News. Moore pointed to a win: “We’ve forced President Biden to come to the table and lower non-defense discretionary spending,” he said, referring to the debt ceiling deal former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy negotiated with the president last year. This deal set lower spending limits for 2024.

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“Isn’t that what we want? Shouldn’t we vote for it? So, that’s the part that I’m trying to communicate,” Moore said, adding, “most House Republicans agree with that” and “want to finalize the appropriations process” before the deadlines.

But, the Utah congressman said, a group of GOP lawmakers are also pushing for another long-term continuing resolution instead of rushing the spending bills to the House floor, “a catastrophic approach,” according to him.

“So, the motivation, and the goal is to get the appropriations bills done, and move on and start on the 2025 budget,” he said, adding he is hopeful the House will avoid a shutdown.

Border deal and foreign aid

Moore said that while Senate Republicans rejected the border deal earlier this month — a decision he believes House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., agrees with — the negotiations continue.

He said it was unfair to see Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., the Republican negotiator on the bill, receiving the brunt of the criticism over the bill, especially since the deal was “a step in the right direction.” But, Moore added, it didn’t address the “overwhelming” surge in illegal border crossings. Since Biden took office, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has encountered 7.5 million migrants at the southern border.

The border security measures will not move forward in the House until policies like the Trump-era Remain in Mexico program, which required asylum-seekers to wait outside the U.S. while their cases were processed, are a part of the negotiations, the Utah representative stated.

“President Biden needs to be an adult here and meet with Speaker Johnson. He slow-played meeting with (former) Speaker McCarthy on the debt ceiling until he finally did, and he’s doing the same nonsense that he’s done before,” said Moore. “Go meet with Speaker Johnson. He’s been asking for a meeting for weeks and weeks now.”

Biden said Monday he will be “happy to meet with (Johnson) if he has anything to say,” leaving the door open for a sit down, as The Hill reported.

Moore said Biden realizes the border is a top concern, which is contributing to “his abysmal approval rating” before predicting that the president will announce executive orders to address the border crisis during his State of the Union address on March 7.

“He could have done that years ago. But he’s going to do it now because it’s an election year,” the Utah representative said. “I would rather him take an honest meeting with Speaker Johnson.”

Moore said he supports keeping border security measures tied to foreign aid for Ukraine, Taiwan and Israel. He added that contrary to the “popular media narrative,” Johnson and most of the Republican Conference also back the foreign aid measures.

Even though there are some loud voices in opposition, “I believe, in a scenario with a good strong border provision, and foreign aid, they would come together,” he added.

The future of the impeachment of DHS Secretary Mayorkas

Moore said he didn’t expect a leadership spot to open up during his two-year term until the House took away McCarthy’s gavel and elected as speaker Johnson, who was the then vice chair of the conference.

At first, Moore was reluctant to run for the position, saying it felt like “a tumultuous time” to be in leadership. But he quickly changed his tune. “If you’re going to be in the game, then be in the game, right?” he said at the town hall, which drew more than 60 attendees.

It’s the first time a representative from Utah has been in such a position of leadership and Moore called it “an awesome honor,” before jokingly saying, “Now everything’s my fault.”

When the original vote to impeach Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas failed, Moore switched his vote last minute earlier this month. This earned the congressman a lot of media attention and scrutiny from his constituents. Moore said many people were upset, but only “13 people in this country understand the centuries-old parliamentary procedure.”

In this case, House Republicans needed someone to switch their vote to let the impeachment motion be reconsidered a week later. “I’m the new guy in leadership, so I guess I drew the short straw,” he joked at the town hall.

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The impeachment articles are making their way to the Senate. Moore said he wasn’t surprised to see Senate leadership is unwilling to take Mayorkas to trial, adding it’s exactly how a Republican-led Senate would have handled the situation.

“I don’t know what their plan is, they may try to refer it to a committee or just bury it,” even though he thinks they should consider the impeachment articles, he said. Moore doesn’t expect the Senate to convict Mayorkas, but it doesn’t change the “catastrophic” situation at the border.

Tax relief package

Moore said the most pressing legislation for him this session is the Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act, which passed the House on Feb. 1.

“It’s getting slow played in the Senate,” he said. “There’s no common sense reason to block this tax package.”

At the town hall, he said the year 2025 will be the “Super Bowl of tax.”

Many provisions in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 expire next year, he said. “If we do nothing, there will be approximately $3.5 trillion increase in taxes,” the Utah representative said. He added he is “thrilled” to be on the House Ways and Means Committee, which was working on the tax package for more than five months.

Moore said he was at a committee lunch when Chairman Jason Smith, R-Miss., said he had to remove a few provisions from the final package and only keep “pro-growth, tax policies” to ensure smooth passage in the House.

Moore recounted how the chairman said he managed to add three additional provisions, including the bill Moore proposed: Section 179, the Small Business Growth Act, which allows businesses to deduct the entire amount they spend on buying equipment, whether it is farming tools or office furniture. If passed, this deduction would be permanent.

The Utah representative said he was “so excited” to hear the news, adding, “It’s tough to be productive back in this world.”

Who is Blake Moore going to vote for in 2024 presidential race?

Moore said he isn’t going to make an endorsement at this point in the presidential race, but he will vote during the Utah presidential primary caucus on March 7.

“I want to encourage as many people as possible to go to caucus night,” he said. The Utah representative added that he doesn’t like the idea of ballots not reaching every Republican voter in the state.

At the town hall, Moore said he was focused on three things when he first got elected: reversing the debt culture in Washington, D.C., supporting U.S. defense, especially since his district is home to Hill Air Force Base, and being “a positive conservative voice for the next generation.” His leadership role gives him a voice to advocate for these priorities.

Moore added he loved Gov. Spencer Cox’s “Disagree Better” initiative, which he thinks “has had some reverberations” in the political world.

In the end, he promised to “always show up” for his constituents.