Michael Shumway "Mike" Lee (born June 4, 1971) is an American politician and lawyer who is the junior United States Senator from Utah. A member of the Republican Party, Lee has served in the U.S. Senate since January 3, 2011.
Born in Mesa, Arizona, Lee is a graduate of Brigham Young University. Lee began his career as a clerk for the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah before serving as a clerk for future Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who was then a judge on the Third Circuit Court. He then entered private practice with the Sidley Austin law firm in Washington D.C. In 2002, Lee returned to his home state to work as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah, a position he held until 2005. Subsequently, he joined the administration of Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, serving as the general counsel in the office of the governor from 2005 to 2006. Lee then reentered private practice in Washington D.C., with Howrey LLP.
In 2010, at the beginning of the Tea Party movement, Lee posed a primary challenge to incumbent three term Republican Senator Bob Bennett. Lee went on to defeat Bennett and business owner Tim Bridgewater during the nominating process at Utah Republican Party Convention. He then defeated Democratic candidate Sam Granato in the general election with 61% of the vote to Granato's 32%. Lee is the son of Rex E. Lee, Solicitor General under President Reagan and founding Dean of J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University.
Lee endorsed fellow Republican Ted Cruz for President of the United States in the 2016 election.
Early life and education
Lee was born in Mesa, Arizona on June 4, 1971, the son of Janet (née Griffin) and Rex E. Lee. His family moved to Provo, Utah one year later, when his father became the founding dean of Brigham Young University's J. Reuben Clark Law School. While Lee spent about half of his childhood years in Utah, he spent the other half in McLean, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. His father served first as an Assistant U.S. Attorney General (overseeing the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice during the Ford Administration) from 1975 until 1976, and then as the U.S. Solicitor General (charged with representing the United States government before the Supreme Court during the first term of the Reagan Administration) from 1981 until 1985. Lee is of English, Swiss, and Danish descent on his father's side.
Growing up, Lee went to school with Senator Strom Thurmond's daughter and lived three doors down from Senator Robert Byrd. He was friends with Harry Reid's son Josh. Senator Reid was the Lees' home teacher. Lee recalls as a child how Senator Reid once locked him and Josh in their garage as a practical joke. According to Lee, the Reid family were the first Democrats he knew well and it was dealing with them that showed him the importance of being able to defend his political views in discussion with those who held other views.
After graduating from Timpview High School (Provo, Utah) in 1989, Lee attended Brigham Young University as an undergraduate student, receiving a BS in political science in 1994. He served as the president of BYUSA, a prominent student service organization, and as student body president, during the 1993–1994 school year, serving together with his father, Rex E. Lee, who was president of BYU at the time. Lee received his J.D. from BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School in 1997.
After graduation from law school in 1997, Lee served as a law clerk to Judge Dee Benson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah. The following year, he clerked for then-Judge Samuel Alito, who was serving at that time on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit Court. After finishing his clerkships, Lee joined the Washington, D.C. office of Sidley Austin, where he specialized in appellate and Supreme Court litigation. Several years later, Lee returned to Utah to serve as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Salt Lake City, preparing briefs and arguing cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. He served as general counsel to Utah Governor Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. from January 2005 until June 2006, when he returned to Washington to serve a one-year clerkship at the U.S. Supreme Court with Justice Alito. Lee returned to Utah (and to private practice) in the summer of 2007, joining the Salt Lake office of the Washington, D.C.-based law firm of Howrey LLP. Lee focused on courtroom advocacy and constitutional law.
As an attorney, Lee also represented Class A low-level radioactive waste facility provider EnergySolutions Inc. in a highly publicized dispute between the company and the Utah public and public officials that caused controversy during his Senate election. Utah's government had allowed the company to store radioactive waste in the state so long as it was low-grade "Class A" material. When the company arranged to store waste from Italy, many objected to the waste being foreign and that it could potentially be more radioactive than permitted. Lee argued that the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution allowed the company to accept foreign waste and that the waste could be reduced in grade by mixing it with lower grade materials, while the government of Utah sought to ban the importation of foreign waste using an interstate radioactive waste compact. EnergySolutions eventually abandoned its plans to store Italian radioactive waste in Utah, ending the dispute, with the 10th U.S. Circuit court later ruling that the compact had the power to block foreign radioactive waste from being stored in Utah.
In 2011, Mike Lee voted to limit the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. In 2013, he voted to make it harder for Congress to put a price on carbon through a point of order opposing a carbon tax or a fee on carbon emissions. The vote did not pass. At a May 2016 event, he stated that it "has long been obvious that the Democratic Party’s assertion that the science of climate change is “settled” is little more than a cheap public-relations ploy masquerading as a monopoly on scientific knowledge”.
Lee ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010. At the Republican State Convention, he received 982 votes (28.75%) on the first ballot, defeating Tim Bridgewater and incumbent U.S. Senator Bob Bennett. Bridgewater, however, won the second and third ballots to win the party endorsement. Both Bridgewater and Lee received enough support to have their names placed on the primary ballot.
In the primary election, held on June 22, 2010, Lee became the Republican nominee by winning 51 percent of the vote against Bridgewater's 49 percent.
Lee won the general election on November 2, 2010 with 62 percent of the vote to Democrat Sam Granato's 33 percent and Constitution Party candidate Scott Bradley's 6 percent.
Lee ran for re-election in 2016. He was endorsed by the Club for Growth, the Senate Conservatives Fund, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
In 2011, Club for Growth gave him a 100% score. Only four other U.S. Senators received a perfect score: Rand Paul, Ron Johnson, Jim DeMint, and Tom Coburn. He also received a 100% Conservative voting record for 2011 from the American Conservative Union. The Heritage Foundation gave him a 99% score, ranking first only with DeMint. The only wrong vote he made, in the opinion of the Heritage Foundation, was voting for the GSE Bailout Elimination and Taxpayer Protection Act, which would privatize Fannie and Freddy.
However, he received a Liberal Action score of 38%.
- Patriot Act
In February 2011, Lee was one of two Republicans, along with Rand Paul of Kentucky, to vote against extending the three provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act that deal with roving wiretaps, "lone wolf" terrorism suspects, and the government's ability to seize "any tangible items" in the course of surveillance. He voted in the same manner in May 2011.
- NDAA for Fiscal Year 2012
On December 1, 2011, Lee was one of only seven U.S. Senators, and one of only three Republicans, to vote against the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012. He opposed the bill because of concerns over Section 1021, the section of the bill that gives the Armed Forces the power to indefinitely detain any person "who was part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners", and anyone who commits a "belligerent act" against the U.S. or its coalition allies in aid of such enemy forces, under the law of war, "without trial, until the end of the hostilities authorized by the AUMF".
- Social Security reform
In April 2011, Lee joined with Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and fellow Senate Tea Party Caucus member Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) to propose a plan they claimed would extend the financial viability of the U.S. Social Security retirement payment system. The three Senators' reform proposal (called the Social Security Solvency and Sustainability Act) was notable because it did not propose any tax increases to ensure solvency. Instead, it suggested that the $5.4 trillion difference between what was then funded and what had been promised could be eliminated by increasing the retirement age to 70 by the year 2032, and slightly reducing the benefits paid to upper-income recipients.
- Criminal justice reform
In 2013, Lee proposed a bill with the aim "to focus limited Federal resources on the most serious offenders" together with Dick Durbin (D) and Patrick Leahy (D). The bill would reduce some minimum sentences for drug-related offenses by half.
- Debt Ceiling
Lee was criticized by Republican Sen. John McCain and others for being overly vocal in his criticism of other Republicans and for obstructing a deal to end the United States federal government shutdown of 2013.
- Flint water crisis
in 2016, Lee used a procedural hold to block a vote on federal assistance for the Flint, Michigan water crisis. He was initially part of a group of senators blocking $220 million in aid to repair lead contaminated pipes but, due to public pressure, Lee became the last opposing senator. While initially anonymous, multiple sources leaked Lee's opposition to the media.
Lee has sponsored 45 bills of his own, including:
112th Congress (2011–2012)
- S. 1340, a bill to cut federal spending, cap future spending increases, and to seek ratification of a balanced budget amendment for the federal government, introduced July 7, 2011, reintroduced as S. 3482
- S. 1837, a bill to reduce the tax rate on foreign earnings from 35% to 5%, introduced November 9, 2011
- S. 2040, a bill to prohibit either chamber of Congress from modifying the debt ceiling unless a budget is in effect, introduced January 26, 2012
- S. 2103, a bill to prohibit abortions from being performed in the District of Columbia if the fetus has been developing for at least 20 weeks, except if the life of the mother is endangered, introduced February 13, 2012, reintroduced in the 113th Congress as S. 886
- S. 2107, a bill to increase the Social Security retirement age by a month for each month that an individual elects to reduce their Federal Insurance Contributions Act tax payments by 2%, introduced February 14, 2012
- S. 2200, a bill to exempt from the estate tax certain family-owned farms or businesses, and to impose a recapture tax on farmland estates that are not used for farming after being inherited, introduced March 15, 2012
- S. 2247, a bill to change the Federal Reserve System's mandate to ensuring long-term price stability, to change the composition of the Federal Open Market Committee to include one representative from each Federal Reserve bank, to require the Federal Reserve to release transcripts of private meetings within 3 years of such meetings, to change the Department of the Treasury's stabilization fund to a Special drawing rights (XDR) fund, to liquidate all existing assets in the current stabilization fund, with revenue to be allocated to paying off the federal government's public debt, to limit the XDR fund to stabilizing exchange rates and arrangements, and to repeal funding for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the CFPB's Civil Penalty Fund, introduced March 28, 2012, reintroduced in the 113th Congress as S. 238
- S. 3409, a bill to implement wildfire prevention projects in at-risk forests and on threatened and endangered species habitat, introduced July 19, 2012, reintroduced in the 113th Congress as S. 1479
- S. 3411, a bill to clarify that the individual mandate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is not a tax, introduced July 19, 2012, reintroduced in the 113th as S. 560. This bill would undo the Supreme Court's decision in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius that the individual mandate falls under Congress's authority to impose taxes.
- S. 3420, a bill to make permanent tax reductions in the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, reductions for the capital gains and dividends taxes in the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, the increased exemption for individuals for the alternative minimum tax (AMT) and an offset against the AMT for certain nonrefundable personal tax credits, to repeal the estate tax and the tax on generation-skipping gifts, and to reduce the maximum gift tax rate to 35% and allow for a lifetime $5 million gift tax exemption, introduced July 23, 2012
113th Congress (2013–2014)
- S. 768, a bill to exempt gold and silver coins from taxation if they have been declared to be legal tender, introduced April 18, 2013
- S. 1102, a bill to abolish the Export-Import Bank of the United States, introduced June 6, 2013
- S. 1616, a bill to reduce the number of federal income tax brackets to two, with a 15% income tax rate on individuals whose income is up to $87,850 ($175,700 for married couples filing a joint return and surviving spouses), and a 35% income tax rate on all individuals above that level, to repeal the AMT, to increase the child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,500 and allow for such portion of the credit to be refundable, to create a personal income tax credit of $2,000 ($4,000 for married couples filing a joint tax return and surviving spouses) in place of current credits and exemptions, to make the mortgage interest and charitable deductions deduct from gross income instead of tax rates, to reduce the deductible amount of acquisition indebtedness for principal residences from $1 million to $300,000, to repeal the additional hospital insurance tax on taxpayers earning more than $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples), and to repeal the 3.8% net investment income tax, introduced October 30, 2013
- S. 1623, a bill to require employers to provide their employees with 1.5 hours of paid time off for each hour of overtime put in by the employee, up to a maximum of 120 hours of paid time off per calendar year, and to require employers to provide monetary compensation to employees after each calendar year for any unused paid time off. It was introduced on October 30, 2013. The companion bill of S. 1623, H.R. 1406, has been passed by the House of Representatives but has yet to become law.
- S. 1808, a bill to prohibit the federal government from taking an adverse action (which the bill defines) against any individual who believes that marriage is to be between one man and one woman, introduced December 12, 2013
- S. 2137, a bill to ensure that holders of flood insurance policies under the National Flood Insurance Program do not receive premium refunds for coverage of second homes, introduced March 13, 2014. S. 2137 was passed by the Senate but has yet to become law.
- S. 2279, a bill to repeal tax credits for alcohol fuels, biodiesel, alternative fuels, alternative motor vehicles, plug-in electric motor vehicles, enhanced oil recovery, producing oil and gas from stripper wells, producing electricity from nuclear power facilities, carbon dioxide sequestration, investment in energy property, and investment in qualifying advanced coal projects, qualifying gasification projects, and qualifying advanced energy projects, and to reduce corporate tax rates by an amount equivalent to revenue increases that would occur from eliminating the foregoing tax credits, introduced May 1, 2014
- S. 2617, a bill to repeal the Davis–Bacon Act, and render null and void any laws that reference wage requirements in Davis–Bacon, introduced July 16, 2014
- Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
- Subcommittee on Energy
- Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests
- Subcommittee on Water and Power (Chairman)
- Committee on Armed Services
- Subcommittee on Personnel
- Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support
- Subcommittee on Strategic Forces
- Committee on the Judiciary
- Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts
- Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights (Chairman)
- Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights
- Joint Economic Committee
- Committee on Foreign Relations (2011–13)
- Gehrke, Robert (June 3, 2010). "Lee clinches GOP Senate nomination – Salt Lake Tribune". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved June 23, 2010.
- "Utah Election results". Electionresults.utah.gov. Retrieved March 7, 2014.
- Raju, Manu (December 22, 2014). "Tea partier braces for primary challenge from the establishment". Politico. Retrieved 3 February 2015.
- "Club for Growth Scorecard". Clubforgrowth.org. Retrieved March 7, 2014.
- "2011 U.S. Senate Votes". Conservative.org. Retrieved March 7, 2014.
-  Archived May 31, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
-  Archived August 30, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
- "Senator Mike Lee of Utah: Profile, Legislative Scorecard, Contact Information, News and Campaign Contribution Data for the 112th Congress". That's My Congress!. Retrieved March 7, 2014.
- Sonmez, Felicia (February 5, 2011). "Senate passes short-term extension of Patriot Act provisions". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 17, 2010.
- "Senate Vote 84 – To Extend Provisions of the Patriot Act". May 26, 2011. Retrieved December 17, 2014.
- "Senate Roll Call #218 Details: An original bill to authorize appropriations for fiscal year 2012 for military... OpenCongress". Open Congress. December 1, 2011. Retrieved March 7, 2014.
- Matt Canham (April 13, 2011). "Lee unveils Social Security reform plan". Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 5 May 2011.
- Viviane Vo-Duc (April 14, 2011). "Sens. Lee, Paul and Graham: We can fix Social Security without raising taxes". Deseret News. Retrieved 5 May 2011.
- "Lee, others: raise social security age to 70". St. George Daily Spectrum. April 13, 2011. Retrieved 5 May 2011.
- Dagan, David (November 14, 2013). "Why Mike Lee is more serious about prison reform than Rand Paul". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 19, 2014.
- Abrams, Nick (23 May 2013). "John McCain Schools Mike Lee On Washington D.C. Politics". Huffington Post. Retrieved 17 August 2014.
- Drucker, David (11 October 2011). "Sen. Mike Lee Garnering Reputation as `New Jim DeMint'". Roll Call. Retrieved 17 August 2014.
- Daily, Matthew (4 March 2016). "Sen. Mike Lee of Utah: Federal aid not needed in Flint water crisis". PBS NewsHour. Associated Press. Retrieved 5 March 2016.
- Canham, Matt (4 March 2016). "Why Mike Lee is stopping federal aid to fix Flint's poisoned water". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 5 March 2016.
- Mak, Tim. "The Senator Holding Flint Aid Hostage". The Daily Beast. IBT Media. Retrieved 5 March 2016.
- "Senator Lee's Legislation". Library of Congress. Retrieved November 29, 2014.
Lee married Sharon Burr in 1993. They live in Alpine, Utah and have three children, John David, James Rex, and Eliza Rose Lee. Lee is a second cousin to former U.S. Senator Mark Udall of Colorado and current U.S. Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, as well as former Senator Gordon H. Smith of Oregon.
Lee has served on the BYU alumni board, the BYU Law School alumni board, and as a long-time member of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society and the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies. Lee earned the Eagle Scout award from Boy Scouts of America in 1989 and was selected to receive the National Eagle Scout Association Outstanding Eagle Scout Award (NOESA) in 2011.
Lee speaks Spanish, a language he picked up when he was a missionary in the southern Rio Grande Valley near McAllen, Texas. In 2014, he had the opportunity to speak Spanish with Pope Francis.
Mike Lee's brother, Thomas R. Lee, is a Justice on the Utah Supreme Court.
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