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Why did Bernie Sanders single out Mike Lee at presidential debate?

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Sen. Mike Lee

Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, questions Attorney General Jeff Sessions during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in 2017.

Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Bernie Sanders and Mike Lee couldn’t be farther apart on the political spectrum.

But when the last question at the Democratic presidential debate Tuesday challenged candidates to share examples of surprising friendships they’ve had, the self-described democratic socialist named the “very conservative” Republican senator from Utah.

“Mike understood, though he and I disagree on everything, that the U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen was a catastrophic disaster for the people of Yemen,” Sanders, I-Vermont, said at the debate. “For the first time in 45 years, we were able to get the War Powers Act utilized and get the votes to get U.S. troops out of that area.”

An unlikely friendship between TV host Ellen DeGeneres and former President George W. Bush, who sat next to each other at a football game recently, prompted the question.

“It’s been a pleasure working with Sen. Sanders on a number of separation-of-powers issues and I am honored he chose to single out our work together last night. People who don’t know us are sometimes surprised when I tell them that I really like Bernie — both as a friend and as a colleague — but I genuinely enjoy working with him,” Lee said Wednesday through his spokesman.

In January, Lee, Sanders and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., introduced a resolution to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

Lee was among seven Republicans to join all members of the Democratic caucus in passing the resolution in the Senate in March. It passed the House in April, but President Donald Trump vetoed the measure two weeks later.

Lee has long called for the end of U.S. involvement in the Yemen war because it was not authorized by Congress. He said continuing to support the Saudis, especially in light of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, is bad diplomacy.