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Why Utah Sen. Mike Lee says the Senate could turn into ‘Lord of the Flies’

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, right, leaves a private GOP lunch meeting at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, right, leaves a private GOP lunch meeting at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021.
J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

Utah Sen. Mike Lee says the Senate would devolve into a scene from “Lord of the Flies” should Democrats succeed in removing the 60-vote rule to pass most legislation.

“An evenly divided Senate breaking and forever changing rules that require a supermajority is like a football team declaring its opponent’s end zone starts at the 40 yard-line. It is absurd and dangerous to the institution itself,” the Republican senator said in a statement Monday.

Days before the anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced the Senate will vote on filibuster rule changes to advance stalled voting rights bills that Democrats say are needed to protect democracy, according to the Associated Press.

In a letter Monday to colleagues, Schumer said the Senate “must evolve” and will “debate and consider” the rule changes by Jan. 17 as the Democrats seek to overcome Republican opposition to their elections reform package.

“Let me be clear: January 6th was a symptom of a broader illness — an effort to delegitimize our election process and the Senate must advance systemic democracy reforms to repair our republic or else the events of that day will not be an aberration — they will be the new norm,” the majority leader wrote.

Lee said Schumer’s “rash, partisan power grab should be seen for what it is — desperation and a failure to do what Joe Biden and Democrats ran on: unify.”

“If this rule change were to pass the people of Utah and the United States would suffer immeasurably as the Senate devolves into a strictly majoritarian, Lord-of-the-Flies environment,” he said. “Sen. Schumer and his disastrous plan must be stopped.”

The election and voting rights bills have hit a wall in the evenly split Senate, blocked by a Republican-led filibuster and leaving Democrats unable to gain the 60 votes needed to advance them.

The House has approved sweeping voting rights legislation, but Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema, of Arizona, opposed changing Senate rules to get around a GOP filibuster. They have argued that if and when Republicans control the Senate, they could use the lower voting threshold to pass bills Democrats oppose.

Though under enormous political pressure to break the logjam on the voting rights package, Biden has treaded lightly on the filibuster debate. He opposed any significant changes to the rule during his 36 years in the Senate. He said last October that the chamber should “fundamentally alter” the filibuster process on some issues, but did not offer specifics.

Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney also opposes removing the Senate filibuster.

And one of the arguments he used against the idea is the “reasonable chance” that Donald Trump could be elected president and Republicans could control both houses in Congress in 2024.

“Have Democrats thought through what it would mean for them for Trump to be entirely unrestrained, with the Democratic minority having no power whatsoever? If Democrats eliminate the filibuster now, they — and the country — may soon regret it very much,” Romney wrote in a Washington Post op-ed.

As president, Trump repeatedly pressed then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to scrap the 60-vote rule for a simple majority to advance his agenda.

Romney said in the op-ed that the Senate is the only institution in the federal government that empowers the minority. The majority decides in the House; the majority decides in the Supreme Court; and the president is a majority of one. Abandoning the principle of minority empowerment, he said, would fundamentally change the distinct and defining role of the Senate.