SALT LAKE CITY — As news of Sen. Mitt Romney’s vote to convict President Donald Trump spread, interest in a Utah lawmaker’s bill to allow Utahns to recall an elected U.S. senator began to catch fire at the state Capitol.
Rep. Tim Quinn, R-Heber City, said Wednesday he received more than 100 phone calls and 250 emails in just over an hour that were “100% positive to the bill.”
Though Quinn said the proposal was in the works before impeachment and is not about Romney, he picked up a half dozen House co-sponsors after Romney announced on the U.S. Senate floor that he would vote to find Trump guilty of abuse of power.
“Regardless of how you feel about the bill, regardless about how you feel about either one of our senators, I recognize this is a tough bill to be asked to vote on,” Quinn said.
Quinn wouldn’t say whether he believes Romney should be recalled, but said there ought to be a way for residents to remove a senator who they believe isn’t doing what he was elected to do.
Romney said it’s hard to know if his vote will hurt his chances for reelection, which he won’t be up for until 2024. He said he’s only talked to his immediate staff about possible consequences and doesn’t have a plan to deal with the fallout at this point.
“I don’t know what might happen in the Utah Legislature,” he said, acknowledging he is aware of Quinn’s recall bill. “I will accept whatever consequence is sent my way and recognize that is part of the job. People don’t expect me to be a shrinking violet.”
Romney isn’t naive to the fact that his vote will have serious political and personal consequences in Washington and in Utah.
“I know there’s going to be a lot of blowback from leaders in my party here. I presume I’ll receive the same reaction from leaders in my party in Utah,” Romney, R-Utah, told reporters in a conference call after his floor speech. “Of course, the animosity that might be leveled from people in the street is going to be real as well.”
Utahns reacted strongly on social media, including an Instagram post of a photo of a smiling Romney with “undocumented” across the bottom, and declarations on Facebook claiming embarrassment and anger over the vote.
But there was also support for the senator in the Beehive State. With cheers of “Thank you, Mitt,” about 50 demonstrators braved snowy weather to gather in downtown Salt Lake City at the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building in praise of Romney’s vote.
“Mitt used to have a representation as kind of a guy without much spine. I think today he proved his spine, and it is made of steel,” said Joanne Slotnik, with Salt Lake Indivisible. “He is a true American, and it doesn’t matter whether he’s a Republican or a Democrat or anything else. We support him.”
“All eyes are on Utah tonight,” Slotnik added.
Laura Dupuy, of Salt Lake City, cheered as she held a white sign that said “We love Mitt.” She fought tears as she reflected on Romney’s vote, which she said made her proud to live in Utah.
“I never in a million years thought I’d be making a sign like this, but I just have to show my love,” said Dupuy, a 67-year-old Democrat and the retired executive director of the nonprofit Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy. “To have one Republican stand up for the integrity of our Constitution and our country, it’s a combination of joy, but also deep despair and sadness, that we’ve become so partisan.”
Romney said Wednesday he expects “abuse” from Trump and his supporters, including talking about him at political rallies.
By Wednesday evening, Trump had tweeted a minutelong video showing clips of ads depicting Romney as a “Democrat secret asset,” his loss to Barack Obama in 2012 and Trump’s own victory.
The Utah Republican Party Chairman Derek Brown rebuked Romney, saying, “We as a party strongly disagree with the vote cast today by Senator Romney, and firmly stand behind our President.”
Utah House Majority Leader Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, described GOP lawmakers’ reaction to Romney’s vote as a “mixed bag.”
Gibson wouldn’t say whether he personally believes Romney should be recalled were Quinn’s bill to pass.
“Listen, he’s my senator. He was elected by the state of Utah. He has a six-year term,” he said. “Should he be recalled? I’m not going to answer should he be recalled. Am I frustrated with him? Yes.”
Romney’s vote will likely anger conservative Republicans, while moderate Utah Republicans could stand by Romney’s decision. To Gibson, however, he doesn’t see Romney’s vote as possibly carving a deep divide between Utah’s GOP.
“I don’t know if this will create any more of a divide that what’s already there,” Gibson said, noting that while Utah Republicans are generally united on fiscal issues, conservatives and moderates generally clash more over social issues.
Senate Majority Whip Dan Hemmert, R-Orem, said “it’s so hard to know” whether Romney will pay a political price for his vote long term.
“Immediately, yeah, he’s going to rile up a bunch of people, but he’s not up for reelection for four more years, so the world will be very different in four years,” he said.
Asked if Romney’s decision would affect other Utah Republicans, Hemmert, who ran briefly for the 4th District seat held by Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams, said he wasn’t sure.
“I don’t know. If you look at Utah, we have, I think, a unique relationship with Trump relative to other states, even within the Republican Party, and so I think it’s hard to tell. This next election cycle will be very telling — how does Utah turn out for Trump this year.”
Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said, “While I appreciate the senator’s right to do what he thinks is appropriate, I am very disappointed personally and I don’t think he is representing the majority of the citizens of our state.”
Samantha Zager, regional communications director for Trump’s reelection campaign, said Romney’s actions Wednesday were “wildly out of step” with his own constituents. Trump, she said, is more popular in Utah than Romney, according to recent polls.
Democrats in the state Legislature applauded Romney.
House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said he was “happy, happy, happy,” with Romney’s decision. “I think he’s a profile in courage.”
Romney “is going to catch flak like it’s nobody’s business from Trump supporters and from Republicans generally, but this reveals character. This reveals courage. And I am really gratified. This is important,” he said.
Senate Minority Caucus Manager Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, said he’s glad Romney “was able to acknowledge the reality of what happened with President Trump. A lot of the Republicans in Congress and in the Senate are more nervous about their reelection than they are about the reality of corruption in our government.”
Kitchen said he believes most Utahns will support Romney’s decision.
“The thing about Utahns is that they’re not a partisan bunch of people. Of course we have our persuasions, left or right. But at the end of the day, Mitt Romney did the right thing,” he said.
The fledgling United Utah Party, made up of disaffected Republicans and Democrats as well as independents, offered Romney a home if the GOP ostracizes him for his “willingness to put his country before narrow partisan interests.”
United Utah co-founder and former Republican Jim Bennett said the nation witnessed a “rare act of unparalleled political courage.”
“Sen. Mitt Romney’s decision to vote to convict the president on the charge of abuse of power was a powerful reminder that moral courage is sorely lacking in today’s political environment, but that there are individuals who still hold to a sense of the importance of their duty to the country,” according to Bennett.
Romney was the only Republican senator to vote to convict Trump on either article, saying the president is “guilty of an appalling abuse of the public trust.” He did not find Trump guilty of obstruction.
Don Peay, who led Trump’s 2016 campaign in Utah and is a Trump family friend, called Romney’s vote “irrelevant.” He said he received many calls from people asking what they can do for the president.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who last week said Utah is lucky to have Romney and that he has his respect for the “thoughtfulness, integrity, and guts” he has shown during the Senate trial, wasn’t so quick with that sentiment Wednesday.
When Lee Lonsberry on KSL Newsradio’s “Live Mic” asked the Utah senior senator if he still felt that way, Lee replied that Romney’s vote surprised him and that he was “very disappointed.”
“I strongly disagree with his decision on this,” he said.
Pressed on whether Romney still has his respect, Lee said he likes Romney and considers him a friend.
“In the heat of this particular decision, it’s hard for me to see anything but that disagreement,” Lee said. “But tomorrow is a different day. Every day is a new day. I look forward to finding other issues where he and I agree.”
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, a member of the House Intelligence Committee that heard impeachment witnesses, said he has “great respect” for Romney but that he was wrong to vote to convict the president.
“I sat through hundreds of hours of hearings, listened to dozens of witnesses, and have reviewed thousands of pages of documents. There’s no way this president deserves a vote of conviction. I think Sen. Romney has reached the wrong conclusion,” he said.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said Lee and Romney neither lobbied him nor offered their opinion when he voted on impeachment and he extended them the same courtesy.
“However, had my opinion been asked I would have disagreed with Mr. Romney’s analysis and decision,” he said.
McAdams, Utah’s only Democrat in Congress, said Romney reaffirmed his belief that the senator is a person of integrity and principle.
“I came to Congress to do the right thing for Utah and our country. Like Sen. Romney, I believe what the president did was wrong. His actions warranted accountability,” McAdams said.
In announcing his vote to impeach Trump, McAdams said he knew his vote would not remove the president and that the Senate would likely acquit him.
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche, Katie McKellar, Annie Knox
Correction: An earlier version misspelled the last name of Joanne Slotnik as Slotnick, and misidentified the organization Salt Lake Indivisible as Utah Indivisible, a now-defunct group.