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Sen. Mitt Romney talks ‘clunker’ $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan with Utah lawmakers

Romney given warm reception from Utah Democrats, who thanked him for his ‘integrity’

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, pauses to answer questions from reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021.
J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Republican U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney was given a warm reception in his virtual meeting with Utah House Democrats on Tuesday, where he discussed his priorities in Washington, D.C.

“I just want to thank you for your integrity and your commitment to the U.S. Constitution,” Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Sandy, told Romney, who met with state lawmakers via webcam. “I think history will look very kindly on you, sir, and I’m proud to be a constituent.”

Her comments likely referred to Romney’s now second vote to convict former President Donald Trump in two different impeachment trials, as well as Romney’s opposition to challenging the 2020 election results. Both stances have led Romney to stand mostly alone from his fellow congressional Republicans and drew heated criticism from many of his Republican constituents back in Utah.

But Romney has also been praised for his positions with others applauding him for his bravery.

A new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll released last week showed Romney still rates considerably higher among Democrats than Republicans, with 61% of Republicans in the state disapproving of Romney’s job performance, including more than half who strongly disapprove. The poll also showed Romney’s 50% approval rating among Utah voters is slightly lower than where it has been the past year, and his disapproval rating is at 45%.

“I hope history looks more kindly on me than many members of my own party,” he told Harrison, laughing. “But I’m at the stage in my life where, you know, I can look back and I can think of some things that, being truthful and honest with myself, I probably wouldn’t have done but for the politics of it. And those things haunt me.”

“When I came to the Senate,” Romney added, “I said, ‘I’m not going to do that anymore; I’m going to vote my conscience and let the consequences be what they may.’ And it’s been greatly relieving. It allows me to sleep at night.”

Romney chuckled as he said “maybe the history books will mention” his actions, “I think most of what I’ve done is a footnote in history if at all, but I appreciate that comment.”

Romney also met virtually with the Utah House GOP caucus as well as the Senate Democratic caucus on Tuesday, though those meetings were closed and not streamed online like House Democrats’ caucus meeting was on Facebook. Romney also visited with the Senate GOP caucus earlier this month.

Before discussing what he’s been working on in Washington, Romney commiserated with Utah’s House Democrats, saying now that he’s part of the minority party in D.C., “I know what it’s like to be in the minority, and it’s no fun. It’s much more fun to be in the majority.”

After highlighting his proposal to increase the minimum wage to $10 an hour rather than $15, his proposal to send families with children monthly checks and other priorities, Romney also addressed “all the talk” happening in D.C. around the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed published Tuesday, Romney called President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan a “clunker” that would “waste hundreds of billions of dollars, do nothing meaningful to get kids back to school and enact policies that work against job creation.”

“It has some good things in it. It has some things that are not good in my opinion,” Romney told state Democrats. “It’s not great for Utah. Some things are fine and good, but some things are really not helpful.”

Romney pointed to $350 billion in the plan slated to go to states and localities.

“I don’t know whether any of that money under the allocation system will come to Utah,” Romney said, “because the allocation is based on unemployment rate, and our low unemployment means the money’s going to be going, for instance, to California.”

Romney said that means California is slated to get $27 billion under the plan, saying that “ignores the fact that California has a $20 billion surplus this year.”

“We’ve tried to get the president’s team to adjust their bill with no effect at this stage,” Romney said. “I presume it’s going to be passed on a party line basis, which I think is unfortunate.”

Romney, in is op-ed, wrote he and other Republicans “stand ready to negotiate a plan that helps America recover, both physically and financially, from this dread disease.”

“We are willing to compromise in an attempt to get the administration to come down from its ill-considered $1.9 trillion plan and instead provide need-based relief,” he wrote. “We have shown a willingness to compromise — which the president and Democratic congressional leaders have yet to reciprocate.”