In the last 50 years, there has only been one instance of an independent or third-party senator not caucusing with either major party in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Dean Barkley was a member of the Independence Party who served in the Senate for two months following the death of Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn. Barkley was appointed by Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, known also as Jesse “The Body” Ventura of professional wrestling fame. Barkley chose not to caucus with either party, a backroom deal which left Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., in power as Majority Leader.
This decision to “caucus by myself in a bathroom,” as Barkley joked, may have been a canny one for a caretaker senator who served for a grand total of eight legislative days. Whether or not to caucus was really the only horse Barkley had to trade.
However, there is good reason no senator with a tenure longer than a season of “Ted Lasso” has gone the lone-wolf route of Barkley: It completely undermines the long-term effectiveness of a U.S. senator.
Without caucusing with either party, there is no guarantee of receiving any committee assignments nor is there any mechanism for gaining seniority which can eventually lead to critical committee and subcommittee chairmanships.
Senators are elected not to tweet and speechify but to legislate. The nuts and bolts of legislating takes place in committees where bills are introduced, debated, refined and voted out. Committees are where senators conduct oversight on executive branch agencies to ensure they are operating within the bounds of the authorities and budgets authorized to them by Congress.
Committee hearings for the confirmation of presidential appointees are crucial to elucidating the governing philosophies of agency heads and other political staff who have extraordinary power, especially over heavily regulated industries which are crucial to our economic and national security.
I represent such an industry — the mining industry.
I have had the opportunity to work closely with Sen. Mike Lee and have seen him use the power of his committee assignments — especially his seat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and his ranking member status on the Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining — to protect Utah’s natural resources and energy industries.
Lee has worked tirelessly to fight for permitting reforms to increase the domestic production and processing of critical minerals; to modernize of our ports, freight railroads and other logistics infrastructure; to ensure fair and rational management of our federal lands and access to the federal mineral estate; and to increase domestic fuel production to ensure grid reliability and energy independence.
I have witnessed Lee’s intensive questioning of many of President Joe Biden’s often controversial nominees, putting them on the record with assurances they would stay within the bounds of their delegated authorities. And I have relied on Lee to hold many of those same appointees accountable in committee oversight hearings when they have failed to stay within those bounds and have promulgated unnecessary and damaging regulations that weaken domestic industries and push mineral production, mineral processing and manufacturing overseas to irresponsible countries like China and Russia.
Lee’s opponent, Evan McMullin, seems primarily concerned with being a political celebrity like so many others in his adopted Democrat Party. There is little other explanation for his repeated vows not to caucus with either party in the unlikely event he is elected to the U.S. Senate. While such a commitment might poll well with desperate Utah Democrats and Never Trumpers, it would ensure he would be utterly ineffective as a legislator. Worse, in a closely divided Senate, it could keep Chuck Schumer and the Democrats in power, continuing the carnage of inflation, energy insecurity and empowerment of America’s foreign adversaries that has been Biden and his party’s legacy over the past two years.
Wandering around the U.S. Capitol tweeting and looking for MSNBC reports may be the stuff of McMullin’s dreams, but Utah’s citizens and industries deserve better.
Lee is an effective leader and legislator, and I hope you will join me in voting to reelect him.
Brian Somers is the president of the Utah Mining Association.