Sen. Mike Lee and Evan McMullin Face Off in Only Debate of Unusual Senate Race
Evan McMullin and Mike Lee squared off in the Utah Senatorial Debate on Monday, marking the high point so far in a novel race that pits Lee, the incumbent Republican senator, against independent candidate McMullin, a man who Lee previously voted for in a presidential election.
It is rare in American politics for an independent candidate to be competitive in a partisan race, and even more unusual for that race to be over a senate seat in the federal government. However, Lee and McMullin frequently clashed over the nature of political partisanship and the independence of elected officials.
McMullin, who ran as an independent conservative candidate for president in 2016, opened with an appeal for unity. “We as Utahns and Americans have far more in common than we do in difference… we can overcome problems by finding common ground together.” In contrast to the broken politics of Washington, McMullin argued that he could work across party lines and pass the policy that Utahns want.
McMullin criticized Lee for his affiliation with the Republican party, arguing that he works for party bosses and special interests rather than for voters. Lee noted that he had consistently declined to take the Republican party line when he felt that proposed legislation was not in the interest of Utahns, including publicly calling out Donald Trump.
Mike Lee emphasized the importance of reducing government spending and government interference in the economy. He asserted that excessive federal spending by the Biden administration is responsible for high inflation and committed to continue to use his vote to stop deficit spending by both Republicans and Democrats. He suggested that only a Republican-controlled senate would be able to rein in the Biden administration’s spending.
Lee also proposed that the federal government cease to provide loans and funding to college students, saying that the inflated costs of college tuition are caused by federal involvement in student loan markets.
McMullin agreed with Lee that federal spending is excessive and needs to be reined in, and argued that both Republicans and Democrats were responsible for overspending. However, he proposed that rather than cease to issue loans or grants, the federal government should narrow its scope and focus its efforts on helping low-income students.
In answer to a question about how the US should respond to growing threats abroad, Mike Lee said that the US needs to make strong investments in military power, including increasing the size of the US Navy and improving our missile technology. Lee also said, “we need robust bilateral trade agreements with other countries in Asia to offset China,” stating that creating more free trade with India, Australia, Japan and South Korea would reduce Chinese belligerence.
Lee also argued that a Republican Senate was a necessary counterbalance to the Biden administration’s handling of foreign policy, stating that the president is “not all there.”
Evan McMullin concurred that investing in advanced military technologies and bettering American relationships with Asian countries, including through trade, is necessary to accomplish American foreign policy objectives. However, he added, “We need to elect leaders and representatives… who will stand up to foreign dictators, and not enable them.” He criticized Lee for voting against sanctions on Russia, and noted the Mike Lee is the only member of Utah’s congressional delegation not to be blacklisted by the Russian government while citing he has traveled to meet with leaders in the country.
“As to why [Russia] hasn’t blacklisted me, I don’t know. I’d love to be blacklisted there!” Lee responded. “I’ve been banned for life from China, I hope Russia will ban me next.” He addressed his meetings in Russia as a result of helping achieve religious liberty and freedoms for missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Asked about the recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, McMullin said, “I’m pro-life and have always believed in the sanctity of life, and I oppose the extremes on both sides of this issue,” including states that ban abortion without exceptions. He continued by saying that the way that the current parties discuss abortion is not constructive, and argued that the best way to reduce abortion in America is through increasing access to contraception and providing more support for women and families.
Lee said that he was thrilled that the Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which he called a “legal fiction cut out of whole cloth from the imagination of a few Supreme Court justices.” He cited that McMullin has been inconsistent in his pro-life advocacy and of defending Roe v. Wade.
In the sharpest exchange of the night, McMullin accused Lee of betraying the constitution by supporting a violent insurrection and casting doubt on the legitimate vote of the American people, including by advising Donald Trump on obtaining new slates of electors in order to secure a victory in the electoral college. His constitutionalist rhetoric, McMullin suggested, was duplicitous.
Lee retorted that there was no evidence he supported a false elector scheme. Instead, he argued, he was concerned with legitimate questions about election integrity. His vote to certify the vote of the electoral college stood on its own merits, he stated. He added that while he believes that Biden is a legitimate president, he continues to have concerns with some of the procedures states used during the 2020 election.
The Cougar Chronicle is an independent student-run publication and is not affiliated with Brigham Young University or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints