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Sen. Mike Lee: I didn’t vote for Trump 4 years ago, but I will this election

He says things I would never say, but actions speak louder than words, and his record is strong

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks as President Donald Trump looks on at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Dec. 4, 2017.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

I didn’t vote for Donald Trump four years ago. I didn’t vote for him in the primary. I didn’t vote for him at the convention. And I didn’t vote for him in the general election.

But this year I am voting for President Trump. Let me explain why.

Four years ago, I did not believe President Trump could beat Hillary Clinton.

Clearly, I was wrong.

Four years ago, I did not believe President Trump would govern as a conservative.

Happily, I was mistaken there, too.

Right off the bat, President Trump nominated a Supreme Court Justice, Neil Gorsuch, who has already helped protect Utahns’ way of life by defending religious liberty.

In Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer, Justice Gorsuch joined a conservative majority in overturning a Missouri state constitutional amendment that illegally discriminated against faith-based institutions, in this case a Lutheran preschool, from participating in a state program to improve playgrounds. This “Blaine Amendment” Justice Gorsuch helped strike down was passed just 30 years after Missouri’s governor signed an executive order calling for all people of my faith to be “exterminated or driven from the state.”

President Trump has also been a fierce advocate for families, working with me to double the child tax credit as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. This policy, which required years of groundwork in the Senate, has been a huge benefit to thousands of Utah families. President Trump truly cares about working American families, and he immediately recognized how this conservative provision could make his signature tax plan better. Rulings like this one reflect President Trump’s commitment to religious freedom.

It may seem like a long time ago, but President Trump was also instrumental in getting criminal justice reform passed through Congress and signed into law. For nearly a decade, I had worked with Democrats like President Obama and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illionois, to move what became The First Step Act through the United States Senate, but we couldn’t get it done. Only after we convinced President Trump that our bipartisan approach would both make our communities safer and give people the opportunity to make things right in their lives did criminal justice reform get done.

President Trump is deeply human and therefore flawed. He says things I would never say. He and I come from drastically different backgrounds, and that is certainly reflected in how we speak. But when he was elected, I knew I had to work with him. If we are going to survive as a diverse constitutional republic, we have to work with people who think, speak and live differently than we do. They are as much a part of our republic as anyone else.

That is why I’ve worked with self-described “democratic socialist” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, on ending our wars in Afghanistan and Yemen. That is why we worked with progressive Democrats like Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, on criminal justice reform. And that is why we tried to work with President Trump, even though I opposed his candidacy.

Many people I love and respect say they can’t vote for a man who says the things President Trump has said. I understand these concerns. Indeed, I share many of them. But it also has been taught that actions speak louder than words. And when we look at what President Trump has actually done — recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, nominating Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, lowering poverty, lowering unemployment, raising wages for working Americans — his record is strong.

President Trump’s administration hasn’t been perfect. It has spent far too much money, and the deficit has grown far too fast. But considering the alternative, a Democratic Party promising to borrow and spend far, far more, while seeking to enforce “woke” extremism at the expense of religious freedom, President Trump is the easy choice for me.

Mike Lee is the senior United States senator from Utah.