Romney gets warm welcome in meetings with Utah’s Republican, Democratic legislators
Impeachment vote not discussed in House GOP caucus; Democrats thank Romney for his ‘courage’
SALT LAKE CITY — Several weeks after his lone Republican vote to convict President Donald Trump for abuse of power, Sen. Mitt Romney visited with lawmakers at Utah’s Capitol on Friday in caucuses that stayed pleasant and noncontentious.
Romney was met with applause in the Republican and Democratic caucuses he visited. His vote to convict was not brought up in the House GOP gathering — where he discussed topics including coronavirus and preparedness for impacts caused by the virus — but was acknowledged by Democrats, who applauded Romney for his “courage.”
Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, thanked Romney for standing up for his beliefs in a Senate Democrat meeting. Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights, said in the House Democrat caucus she promised her family that she would thank Romney for his vote on impeachment, which was followed by a round of applause from the room.
Romney, in turn, said he voted under a constitutional oath he took seriously as a Senate juror in the impeachment trial.
“I would have done the same thing had it been a president I loved like Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, or a Democrat,” Romney told House Democrats. “That was not the consideration, and it was a very difficult decision.”
Romney, speaking to reporters following the meetings, indicated he wasn’t surprised his vote to convict didn’t come up when talking with the House Republicans.
“I think people understand individuals vote their conscience. My colleagues in the Senate voted their conscience; I did the same,” Romney said. “One of the leaders of our Senate Republicans sent me a note and he said, ‘I wouldn’t want to be a part of any group where we were critical of someone who voted their conscience,’ and that’s what I did.”
As for Utahns who were upset with his vote to convict, Romney again pointed to his oath as a juror and that he did “what I believe what was right as a juror.”
“I did not want to have to vote against the leader of my party,” Romney said. “I support the leader of the party in many, many ways and many policies that he’s brought forward, but I was convinced by virtue of the trial that he had done what was alleged. That was a very serious infraction, and therefore required the vote I gave.”
Romney said Utahns “disagree on many issues, but we tend not to be disagreeable.”
“Look, a lot of people disagree with what I do from time to time on a whole series of things, but we get along, and we express those points of view and act accordingly,” he said.
Romney said he supports Trump “probably more than most Senators” on a variety of policy matters.
Romney has voted for the president’s policies 80% of the time, a higher percentage than Trump defender Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. Lee, though, did not vote to remove the president as Romney did.
In meetings with lawmakers, Romney fielded questions mostly about coronavirus and national preparedness. Romney discussed his disappointment that the U.S. — under current and past administrations, not just under Trump — hasn’t stockpiled as much protective equipment as it should have.
“You can’t blame an administration for the fact that a disease enters your country,” he said. “People are the carriers of that. And we’re going to have to respond in whatever way is necessary given what happens in the world of diseases.”
Romney told reporters he appreciated Trump’s action to put one person, Vice President Mike Pence, in charge of coordinating response to the virus to “cut through various agency bureaucracy that might exist and that we can have a coherent strategy to deal with this disease.”
“We all hope that it doesn’t become a significant factor here,” he said. “But if it does, we’ve got to be ready.”
Romney’s visit Friday comes weeks after he took a red-eye flight back to Utah the evening after his vote to meet with Utah lawmakers behind closed doors in what some described as “tense” but without “animosity.” As Romney explained his vote to lawmakers, legislative leaders commended the junior senator for coming to Utah to face the fallout, but said they were still “disappointed” in his vote.
One rural GOP lawmaker, Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, filed a bill seeking to censure Romney, and a previously filed bill to allow a recall election for a sitting U.S. senator caught fire with public attention. But Republican legislative leaders decided against moving forward with those bills, instead opting to draft a citation in support of Trump to keep “civility” in Utah.
Earlier Friday, a crowd of supporters gathered on the steps of Utah’s Capitol to thank Romney.
The groups, including Mormon Women for Ethical Government, Student Republicans of Utah, Republicans for the Rule of Law, Salt Lake Indivisible, Stand Up Republic Utah and the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah, held a “celebratory toast” with chocolate milk, a reference to Romney being caught drinking chocolate milk on the Senate floor during the impeachment trial, to “commemorate Sen. Romney’s courage.”
Romney’s supporters held signs that read “Thank you, Mitt,” “Brave + Honest = Mitt,” “True Grit Mitt” and “Mitt: bringing home the gold for courage.”
Still, there are Utahns intent on sending a strong signal against Romney’s vote.
On Saturday, the Utah Republican Party Central Committee is scheduled to consider a resolution to censure Romney and a call on him to “vigorously” support Trump’s agenda or give up his seat.
Contributing: Dennis Romboy, Ashley Imlay, Sahalie Donaldson