SALT LAKE CITY — A state representative called Thursday for U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney to be censured for his vote to convict President Donald Trump for abuse of power, the same day Romney came to the Utah Capitol to explain his decision to the Legislature’s Republicans leaders.

The censure resolution pairs with a bill filed last week that would give Utah voters the ability to recall their U.S. senators that is attracting even more attention now that Romney broke with his party. Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, also filed a resolution “paying tribute” to Trump.

House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, speaks with reporters at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, the day after Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, voted to convict President Donald Trump on one impeachment count. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

The GOP leaders of the state Senate, however, expressed little interest in going after Romney, or even in supporting Wilson’s resolution, saying it was time to move on from the divisive issue of the impeachment.

The sponsor of the censure resolution, Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, said he didn’t want Utah’s relationship with Trump to be “damaged by the actions of Sen. Romney.” Lyman attended the House leadership meeting with Romney.

“I wanted to send a message that Utah supports President Trump,” Lyman said. “I didn’t want that message to be lost.”

Romney flew overnight from Washington to Utah and spent the morning in private meetings with the Republican legislative leadership of first the Senate and then the House. He made no public appearances at the Utah Capitol and is expected to return to Washington Friday.

The senator strode briskly through a back hallway of the Capitol between meetings, telling reporters seeking comment not only on his vote against the president but also the recall bill: “No, not this morning.”

Earlier Thursday, Romney taped an interview with KSL-TV’s “Sunday Edition with Doug Wright,” saying he’d “hoped beyond hope that he would not have to find (Trump) guilty of what had been alleged. I don’t dislike the president. We get along on a collegial basis. I’ve known him a long, long time and by and large, I agree with his policies and support those policies.”

But Romney said as a man of faith, he “frankly, had no particular choice, given the nature of the fact that I really did swear an oath before God. I’m a religious person. For me, that’s not just a rote word that you throw off, a pro forma phrase. It’s a very serious phrase.”

He said in the interview that airs 9 a.m. Sunday on KSL-TV that jurors are expected to fulfill the oath they take “regardless of the team that might be on trial. So I’m on the president’s team. I’m a Republican. I’m a conservative. I vote with him. But when asked, did he do something which violates the Constitution, the answer is yes.”

Romney also spoke to the allegations at the heart of the impeachment and trial proceedings, that Trump attempted to pressure a foreign leader into investigating a political rival in this year’s presidential race, former Vice President Joe Biden.

“I have a hard time thinking of something which is a more destructive, abusive attack on our constitutional democracy than trying to corrupt an election,” Romney said. “An election is the vehicle whereby the power of the people is given to a small number of people, and to corrupt that to try to maintain power is about as serious a violation as I can imagine.”

He said he knew there would be a “substantial consequence” for voting against his party, both in Washington and “frankly, a lot of people in my own state,” and that was why he was meeting with state legislative leaders, “to explain how I decided what I did.”

Romney said he doesn’t expect his vote to make “a difference in terms of being able to move legislation, or to support key measures that affect our state” in the U.S. Senate.

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Wilson gave the senator credit for returning to Utah to face the fallout.

“It took a lot of courage to do that in the wake of what happened,” Wilson said. “Primarily because many of us here are disappointed with what happened yesterday and disagree, at least to some degree, with the decision that was made, but we appreciate him coming out and explaining his decision.”

House Majority Whip Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, left, and House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, confer after speaking with reporters at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, the day after Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, voted to convict President Donald Trump on one impeachment count. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

The speaker said the lawmakers in the meeting have a better understanding of Romney’s reasoning for his vote to convict, but they still disagree with what he did.

Trump has done “tremendous things for the state of Utah and the country,” Wilson said, and whether or not people agree with the president’s actions, “there are a lot of things that President Trump and his administration have done to support this state, support state rights, and we appreciate his leadership.”

Wilson told House Republicans in their caucus there’s a range of “emotions” over Romney’s actions, from “anger” to “understanding” to “still trying to understand.” But what is certain is legislators “have to be mindful” of how Utah manages its relationships with the president.

“This is a tense time, right?” Wilson said, noting that “you cannot open” any national news website and not see a cover story on Romney and “some of the tension that’s caused with the White House.”

“But we have had and continue to have a great relationship with the White House,” Wilson said. “Don’t fret. We’ll just keep managing this and we’ll go from there.”

Wilson opened a bill file Thursday for a joint resolution “paying tribute to President Trump for his support of Utah and Utah issues.”

The resolution’s text was not yet made public, but Wilson told reporters it’s meant to “send a message to President Trump and his administration and how appreciative we are in the state of Utah for the great work his administration has done on behalf of the citizens of this state.”

House Majority Leader Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, told the Deseret News that the joint resolution has clear support in the House. Gibson said he’s not sure whether Quinn’s senator recall bill or Lyman’s censure resolution has enough support to get through the House, though he noted there’s been a surge of Utahns who are unhappy with Romney.

“Sen. Romney made his decision to vote the way he did,” Gibson said. “There are some people in Utah that support it, and I think the majority of Utahns are frustrated.”

But Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, questioned why any action needs to be taken by the Legislature over Romney’s vote, citing what he called the “good working relationship” Romney has with the president.

“I for one wouldn’t want to be judged, to be censured, for one vote that I make,” Ipson told reporters during the Senate leadership’s daily media availability, especially when Romney “makes 80% of his votes to support the president and not everyone would say that his vote doing that was wrong.”

Ipson said he believes “it’s important that we support the president and the policies and the good he’s done for the state of Utah and we move on.” Asked if that needed to be done in legislative resolution as the speaker is proposing, he said, “Why does it need to be?”

Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, told reporters that the bill allowing Utahns to recall a U.S. senator is “very, very clearly” unconstitutional but stressed the differences over the House legislation shouldn’t be seen as a split between the House and Senate.

“We don’t want it to become a divisive issue. We may have a little bit of a difference of opinion on approach, but this is not something that we need to dwell on,” Vickers said.

Senate Majority Whip Dan Hemmert, R-Orem, suggested there’s room to disagree with Romney’s action.

“Two intelligent people can see the same set of facts and arrive at different conclusions and that’s okay. And that’s okay within a shared faith and that’s OK within politics and that’s OK everywhere,” Hemmert said. “One thing Utah is great at is we can have dialog with people with different opinions and leave the vitriol out of it.”

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks with KSL’s Doug Wright during an interview in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, the day after he voted to convict President Donald Trump on one impeachment count.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks with KSL’s Doug Wright during an interview in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, the day after he voted to convict President Donald Trump on one impeachment count. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

In an interview with the Deseret News, Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said his message for Romney was that it’s time to move on from the rancor surrounding the president’s impeachment. Adams is one of the co-chairmen of Trump’s reelection campaign in Utah.

“We need to rise above the rhetoric of what’s going on. It’s nice to have our congressmen and senators come back to Utah, but we hope they don’t bring the contention of Washington, D.C., with them. We want to stay above those issues,” Adams said.

Romney told the state Senate leaders “he voted his conscience. It’s probably for him to talk about,” the Senate president said. “That’s something he has to deal with personally.”

Adams touted the strength of the nation’s economy and military under the Trump administration and said “when you throw an impeachment process into it, it seems like it’s a distraction to the overall efforts of what we’re trying to do. ... This internal contention is something that we need to rise above.”

Asked if he believes Romney contributed to that contention with his vote to convict, Adams said: “He didn’t help it.”

Adams said he didn’t spell that out to Romney, but “I think we inferred it.”

Lyman, who was in the room when Romney met with House leaders, described it as “tense” but without “animosity.” Lyman said he respects Romney for being a “nonconformist” and appreciates he made his decision based on religious convictions, but noted his resolution to censure Romney is based on his own convictions.

“The same motivations motivate me to take actions that I take,” Lyman said. “It’s my conscious. It’s my oath to uphold the Constitution, to do what’s in the best interest of the state of Utah ... I want the message sent loud and clear to the president that we support him and what he’s doing for Utah.”

Lyman noted many lawmakers in Utah’s Capitol are religious and said Romney is “not unique in having some religious foundation that supports his conscious and his actions.”

“I’m the same way,” Lyman said.

Lyman said he’s also signed on to co-sponsor the U.S. senator recall bill, HB217, sponsored by Rep. Tim Quinn, R-Heber City. Lyman said he doesn’t necessarily support a recall election now for Romney since he’s only one year into his six-year term, but he said it would be a nice “threat” to have on-hand.

“If Sen. Romney continues to fight against the party that put him in office, I would say that would be a nice threat to have on the table,” Lyman said. “If you’re not going to support the people that supported you, they have the ability to recall.”

Quinn’s recall bill, however, could be challenged in court as unconstitutional. No state has ever attempted to recall a sitting U.S. senator. Utah’s senate president says the bill has issues.

“Even though it may be well-meaning and well-thought of, it’s unconstitutional and has some problems. My preference would be to stay focused on the issues at hand,” Adams said.

Quinn told the Deseret News a possible constitutional challenge shouldn’t stop his bill.

“We pass legislation we think is good policy, and if someone challenges it in the courts, then let the courts do their job,” Quinn said. “But I’m not going to sit here, and I don’t think anyone should sit here and say, ‘We best not take up that issue because it might be unconstitutional.’ I don’t think that’s a fair process.”

Quinn also said he’s not deterred by the reluctance to take up the recall bill in the Senate.

“If we planned our bills on what we thought the Senate would do, we would be at a stalemate,” he said, adding the House should act “regardless of what the Senate thinks.”

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, the Democrat who ran against Romney for the Senate seat vacated by former Sen. Orrin Hatch in 2018, was in the Utah Senate offices for a meeting when Romney slipped in to join the state Senate leaders.

Wilson said she gave her former opponent a hug and talked with him about his vote.

“I said, ‘Thank you,’ and ‘I understand that was not easy,’” the mayor said. “I told him I got the better job.”