Americans are hurting today and are not always sure how it happened. Senator Mike Lee looks to the root causes of our painful issues and finds that in large part they have been thrust upon us intentionally by overlooking and trampling our Constitution and founding. We have run-away inflation because of heedless spending. Our borders are broken because some wanted them to be. Our government is bloated because unelected officials create regulations that bind us.
Lee is such a devotee of the Constitution, that he carries it with him, has studied it thoroughly, and has written books about it and our founding, including The Lost Constitution, the Willing Subversion of America’s Founding Document and Saving Nine: The Fight against the Left’s Audacious Plan to Pack the Supreme Court and destroy American Liberty. While others opine that the Constitution should be lost, He sees it as key to our freedom, safety and well-being.
We asked Senator Lee what were the five issues that currently concerned him most about America’s direction, and his answers explained things on a level we usually don’t see in the news cycle.
After doing an in-depth interview with the Senator, Meridian Magazine felt compelled to run this article, even this close to the election. In the face of a $5 million dollar campaign to discredit his integrity and character, to belittle and disdain him, through taking events and words out of context, we just couldn’t let this stand.
A particular effort has been made to equate Mike Lee with President Trump, during this election cycle, so that everything that people find annoying or unlikable about Trump, they will also attribute to Lee. He explains why that is erroneous at the end of this article.
We know Mike very well. He is a good friend of ours and has been for a very long time, during which time we have had ample opportunity to see his character, his honesty, his integrity and his work to realign the government to its limited place and off of our backs. We trust his motives and his values. We have witnessed his love and devotion for America and the Constitution.
Here’s what Mike said are his five biggest concerns about America right now:
Run-away inflation is making Americans poorer and Congress can do something about it.
I would say we’ve got a serious problem with inflation and that inflation has manifested itself across the country. It’s shown up in Utah to a particularly acute degree for a variety of reasons.
The per household impact of inflation in Utah has been worse than most places since Joe Biden took office. It is 16%. The average Utah family is shelling out an additional $949 every single month on their basic necessities, so that’s well over $11,000 a year, and those are not because people are purchasing new items. It’s not like people are going out and buying something extravagant with that additional $11,000 plus a year. Instead, it is $11,000 less than they have every year, because the money that they need to live on, to pay to put a roof over their head and to keep themselves and their children fed and things like that just cost about $11,400, $949 every single month more than it did before.
There are several camps in Washington about why this is happening. Many of them gravitate toward a sense of nihilism or a mysticism about why this is happening. They say, “Nobody really knows why this is happening. It just happens. It just comes about because of a whole bunch of factors—and they’re wrong!
The last time we had a massive wave of inflationary troubles arise was back in the late 1970’s, and Milton Friedman, the famed Nobel Prize-winning economist, was asked a question about why this was happening. It’s happening because of speculative investing, right? Or it’s happening because of trade unions or international trade. People had all these theories about what might be happening.
He said, “No, let me let me boil this down for you. Let me make it very simple. In the United States, inflation is caused by one thing and that’s Congress overspending. It has the effect of just printing more money, and when that happens, you end up with too many dollars chasing too few goods, and that defines inflation.” It’s important for people to understand that this isn’t just something cyclical. It’s not just something that happens from time to time and nobody knows why. It’s not for a complicated set of reasons. It’s not complicated at all.
Inflation happened because Congress has been chronically overspending for a very long time, ratcheting up that spending to a whole new level, to a level we’ve never seen and never experienced before. Just last year, and in 2021, by the end of Joe Biden’s first year in office, the government brought in a record revenue of over $4 trillion. You know, it hasn’t been that many years during or just prior to my current term in the Senate that the federal government was also spending only about $4 trillion a year.
Last year, we spent close to $7 trillion. That’s absolutely nuts. To bring in four and spend almost $7 trillion means that the government is just printing money, to a huge degree. A huge percentage of GDP was deficit spending that was printed money.
When that happens, of course, inflation is going to occur. That’s what inflation is in America. Look at what that does. If you’re really wealthy, you are probably pretty savvy. During these times of inflation, you can, quite perversely, get even richer. During periods of inflation like this, some people can figure out a way to game the system. Very few people fit into this category. Inflation is a huge fat loss and it’s a huge net loss to basically everyone except for a very small select few of very wealthy, savvy, well-connected people. Everyone else suffers. That’s tragic, and you can’t get that back.
The White House tries to say, “Oh, this is transitory. This will be fleeting.” Nonsense. Absolute nonsense. That’s not true at all. This is serious business and this will be with us for a very long time, especially given that this President is determined to do even more of the same. He would keep doing it. He wanted to spend several trillion dollars more than that. Even in just the last couple of months, Congress ran through legislation using the Orwellian name of the inflation Reduction Act, which was quite the opposite of that.
They spent or borrowed three-quarters of a trillion dollars that we didn’t have and they claimed that would reduce the deficit. The claims that this would reduce spending would occur, theoretically, at the back end of a ten-year budget window. That’s the oldest trick in the book because those savings don’t materialize. The spending happens all along, and the savings don’t ever occur.
That’s a big problem and inflation hurts everyone, but it especially hurts the poor and all hardworking Americans. What’s so nasty about that is that politicians are willing to do it because they like the pat on the back that comes from spending a lot of money. You will always get praised for voting to spend more money because there are always worthy deserving beneficiaries. They’re always good things that legislation can do when it spends other people’s money, but the press only reports on that. Yet, as the government spends more money, everyone gets a little poorer. The mainstream press always praises those who vote for the spending bill, and they always criticize quite harshly those who vote against it. Meanwhile Americans pay for it in a most personal way.
The large and bloated national government creates rules and regulations that run our lives and impoverish us and are not made by any accountable, elected official.
The next issue that concerns me relates to what caused the first issue and that is, we have ceased as a country to understand the necessarily limited scope of the federal government. It’s there for just a few things nearly all of which are outlined in Article One Section Eight of the Constitution—like declaring war, establishing an army and a navy, copyrights and patents and a very few more. The rest is left to the states.
Enlarging the federal government has been a slow, but steady process that has happened over the last 85 years. I can make an argument about when it started in earnest. I can pin it down to the date. I think it started on April 12, 1937, which is the day the Supreme Court decided a case called National Labor Relations Board versus Jones and Laughlin Steel company. In that case, the Supreme Court redefined the Commerce Clause so they effectively amended the Constitution without the decency to actually go through the constitutional amendment process. If they had, it probably would not have passed because it was so extreme. It would have been one of the most radical changes to the Constitution ever made.
Instead, five justices, five lawyers wearing robes with the title of justice, effectively amended the Constitution through the backdoor by making the powers granted the federal government under the Commerce Clause almost unlimited. Since then, if Congress uses the right words, they see themselves as having a green light to shoot just about anything into the Commerce Clause.
Two Structural Protections—Vertical and Horizontal
There are these two structural protections in the Constitution that, in my view, are upstream from every other constitutional protection, without which the Bill of Rights can’t be effectively protected. These are the vertical protection we call federalism and the horizontal protection we call the separation of powers. The Commerce Clause has almost vitiated these.
Suddenly, invested with this new power, Congress now found itself with the authority to regulate all sorts of things and all sorts of economic activity, including things that occur only in one state at a time—typically things like labor, agriculture, mining, manufacturing and all the things that generate wealth. They’re economic in nature.
All of a sudden, Congress arrogated to itself, the power to regulate because after all, all those things have a substantial effect on interstate commerce, even if they’re taking place in one state at one time.
Flooded with the euphoria of its own authority, Congress started passing laws in these areas, and at some point, Congress realized that every time they passed a new regulation, they made one group of people happy, and another group unhappy. They had to defend themselves when they stood for re-election.
Laws made by Unelected Officials
Over time, then, Congress developed these shortcuts. Congress would pass laws, establishing platitudes, saying things like, “We hereby declare that we shall have just and fair labor relations, and we hereby delegate to the National Labor Relations Board, the power to have just and fair negotiations with labor unions and between labor unions and employers. Then the NLRB is essentially making the law and regulations in that area, accomplished by people who were never elected to do that.
This goes on with laws and regulations multiplying in all the alphabet soup agencies, created by people who have no accountability to the people.
Let’s use another example. In time, we had a law that said essentially, we shall have safe workplaces in America. We want workers to be safe. Now, what idiot is going to vote against that? But then you read the fine print, and the fine print essentially says–we hereby delegate to OSHA, the power to make what are tantamount to laws, called regulations or rules, but they’re effectively laws. These Federal laws decide what a safe workplace is and decide how unsafe work places or unsafe employers are going to be punished.
All of a sudden, most of the law, measured by cost of regulatory compliance and economic impact and a lot of metrics like that are not made by the people’s elected lawmakers, but by unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats. There’s a problem with that: The very first clause of the first section of the first article of the Constitution. In fact, the first operative provision after the preamble says that all legislative powers herein granted shall be invested into the Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives.
How to Pass a Federal Law
Article One, Section Seven then goes on to explain how you pass a federal law. There’s only one way to make a federal law and that involves bicameral passage. Passage of the same legislative text by both Houses, followed by presentment to the President for signature veto or acquiescence. If you don’t follow that formula, you haven’t made a federal law.
Decades later, we’re now operating well outside of that. That’s how we got this law that came out of OSHA during the pandemic. Since Congress voted that we shall have safe work places, OSHA has the power to decide what that means. At one point, they decided that if you are an employer with more than 99 workers, for every unvaccinated worker you have, you will be charged $15,000 a day, essentially crippling any business that does not comply.
Laws that would Never Pass Congress
If that had to go through Congress, it would never pass, but OSHA gets to make up the law because we’ve eroded the vertical protection of federalism. We’ve taken too much power away from people at the state level. We’ve moved the power to Washington and then within Washington, because Congress couldn’t keep up with all that. We have delegated the task of lawmaking to unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats.
This is part of what’s feeding that monster. We have a federal government that’s spending way too much money, and it’s spending way too much money because we’ve lost sight of what the federal government is and what it isn’t. To understand what it is, you have to understand what it isn’t. It was always intended to be a limited purpose, federal government, not a general purpose, national government. There is a difference and it matters. That’s how our republic was formed. It’s how it has given us its success and longevity.
It’s hard for people to see how this affects them, because you don’t always see price tags attached to the erosion of Federalism. About a decade ago, some researchers aligned with one or two think tanks undertook an effort to try to estimate the backdoor, invisible cost to the American people of the federal regulatory system and of all federal regulations, that is, these federal laws that are enacted not by Congress, but by unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats. They estimated that it was costing the American economy about $2 trillion a year. Because we’ve added a boatload of regulation, it wouldn’t surprise me now if that number was $3 trillion. This is almost analogous to a backdoor, invisible pack that you don’t know you are paying and it doesn’t have a price tag attached to it.
We Pay for It
But you pay for it through higher prices on almost everything you buy, because they are all affected by federal regulations. The average American, I mean, typical hard-working income earners, will spend weeks. if not months out of every year working for the federal government to pay off their taxes. Most people are aware of what is sometimes called Tax Freedom Day, the day each year after which your income can be yours, rather than going to the federal government. But it doesn’t take into account the additional weeks or months every year that Americans spend working just to pay for the increased cost of everything from a box of cereal to a prescription drug to a bag of Fritos, or a gallon of gasoline which costs substantially more because there are too many federal regulations, most of them enacted without the express approval of Congress as the Constitution requires.
These regulations impact not just your pocket book, but your freedom as well. You run into things all the time that you have no control over. Constantly. Constantly. It isn’t just what you can buy or not buy, what you can eat and not eat, but in some circumstances what you can say and not say.
My parents used to say to us as teenagers if you’re often getting into trouble that means that you’re not doing the things you are supposed to do. That’s why it’s important to stay focused on things you’re supposed to do.
Losing sight of what we are supposed to do, including having a strong military.
The federal government is so busy doing things it was never intended to do, that it fails to do the few things it was designed to do. For instance, it is unambiguously authorized to attend to national defense. There’s no question in my mind that the world is a better, safer, and I believe even more just place because we have a strong military. I fear that we could lose that. I feel that we are weakening that every single time we go further into debt. As treasury yield rates start to rise with as much debt as we’ve gotten ourselves into, we can quickly find ourselves in this horrible place where we won’t be able to afford to have the strongest military in the world. That scares me.
Intentionally losing control of our border.
We’re so focused on other things, that we’ve lost sight of taking care of our border. In President Biden’s case, the border is worse, not just by neglect, but by absolute, intentional conduct to open up the border. That is creating its own threat to our national security and future, apart from jeopardizing the strength of our military.
We’re inviting millions of people into our country, people we know nothing about except that they want to come into our country and will do so illegally. President Biden is encouraging them to come in. That is strengthening the drug cartels that are getting really rich off of this policy to the tune of billions and billions of dollars a year.
The human costs are extraordinary. They’re wildly varying estimates about this, but the low-end estimates suggest that 30 to 35% of the girls and women who are brought through these caravans by the cartels are sexually assaulted, and in many instances subjected to human sex trafficking. A high end has it more like 60 or 65%.
In addition to that, a lot of these people are couriers carrying fentanyl. We’ve seen record amounts of fentanyl coming across our borders through the caravans and enough, in fact, to kill many millions of Americans. Because we don’t know who these people are, a lot of them may well present a threat to American national security. Not all of them are coming from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador. They are coming from a lot of countries, not all of which are even in our hemisphere. They’re just coming here because they’ve heard it can be done. That’s a dangerous thing.
If you lose control of your border, you cease to be a country. It troubles me greatly that so many people have tried to suggest that border control isn’t necessary or that breaches of our border can be deemed a victimless offense. It’s not true.
I can tell you that nobody fears uncontrolled waves of illegal immigration more than recent immigrants. Nobody. Yet, you’d never guess that by what you’re reading or watching the news. That is because the news adopts this kind of racist assumption that if you have an Hispanic surname or you’re a recent immigrant or a child of a recent immigrant that you necessarily want uncontrolled open borders, and that’s a lie, that’s a racist lie.
People, recent immigrants, especially those who live on or near the border fear these uncontrolled waves of illegal immigration more than everybody else because it is their schools, their neighborhoods, their children, their jobs that are most jeopardized by illegal immigration.
Borders can be fixed, but you have to want to
A great thing about the borders, is also the tragic thing—and that it is not that hard to fix. You just have to want to do it. It is fixable. I got fairly involved in border issues. In 2018, I became concerned about it because there were these big waves of illegal immigration caravans coming toward the United States, and the big waves seemed to be getting worse. So, I reached out to some good friends in the administration and especially Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.
I called him and I said, “what do you think we can do?” I asked him things about Safe Third Country agreements, and he told me that they were experimenting with a variation of that. I made a couple of trips to Mexico and met with some government officials down there. With my encouragement and working with Mexican officials, we created an elegant, but simple solution, called the Remain in Mexico program. It said, that an immigrant must remain in Mexico while his or her asylum application is pending.
The overwhelming majority, as many as 99% or so of those who apply for asylum are not entitled to it and they don’t get it, but the immigration courts are backlogged and they seem in some ways almost deliberately backlogged, so it takes a long time to get to an application. Right now, someone comes across the border, applies for asylum, and they are told, “At some point we will contact you. We hope you will appear at your immigration hearing,” which is usually a year or maybe two years out. Then most of them do not show up.
The Remain in Mexico required them to stay in Mexico while their immigration or their asylum applications was pending. This together with some other measures and additional protocols, taken at the border, including the border fencing and wall construction brought us to the point where the border was seriously under control for the first time in my adult lifetime. It’s not that hard. You just have to do it. You have to have an administration that wants to do it.
Religious freedom and abortion.
So, Roe v. Wade was wrong morally, but it was also utterly without foundation in the Constitution. They tried to force a national consensus in the absence of national consensus, and that caused all sorts of problems. It was awful. So when it was overturned, in an opinion, written by my former boss, I was just elated, ecstatic.
Now as to federal abortion legislation, I think there should be legislation prohibiting use of federal funds for abortions. The federal government can have some role when it comes to military installations or government property or something like that. For the most part, this is now a state issue and it should be. That’s true, not just because that’s what the Constitution requires, but it is also the best way to save the most babies. If you try to establish a national abortion standard, like Lindsey Graham’s 15-week bill, that will become the ceiling and the floor, and that would be bad. It will also allow the Democrats to one day establish their own national standard, which was when the free abortion on demand up to the moment of live birth was pushed. That’s not a good idea.
I expect to see a bill allowing abortion until the moment of live birth come before the Senate. President Biden said that is what he wanted. A bill like that has already been presented twice this year. Democrats have forced forward a bill that would basically prohibit any state from protecting abortion in any way, including late-term partial birth abortions in which the babies are partially delivered and then dismembered while being born. These include sex selective abortions and abortions targeting babies with Down syndrome.
A Federal Same-Sex Marriage Law
There is also an attempt by the Democrats to pass a federal same-sex marriage law, which is unnecessary because Obergefell vs. Hodges is the law of the land, and it’s not going anywhere. I think there is zero possibility that is going to be overturned. Yet, I am suspicious of those who are aggressively pushing legislation about it, because, they, too, know it is never going away. I believe they have a different motive. I looked at it closely and tried to discern what that motive could be. I can see where there could be circumstances in which religious institutions, like BYU, for example, could get in trouble and be deemed discriminatory based on policies that arise out of religious belief that they have as a result of being a Latter-day Saint. I immediately put together an amendment that would protect against revoking the tax-exempt status or any other adverse action against a religious organization for their beliefs for or against gay marriage.
The government shouldn’t be punishing you for a religious belief about same-same sex marriage, regardless of what that belief is. When I created that amendment, the people sponsoring that bill emphatically rejected it and claimed that they were going to fix the problem of religious freedom through some other amendment. Yet, when I read their proposed amendment, it did nothing of the sort. They claimed it solved the problem, but it didn’t. Unless they agree to aggressive, robust religious freedom protections that do the same thing that my amendment does, which they have, so far not agreed to, that bill should not pass.
Those against Mike Lee’s re-election have been attempting to link him with Donald Trump, and attribute anything they don’t like about Trump to Lee as if they share attributes. Lee tells this story.
Lee’s Challenge with Trump
As you know, I did not start out a Trump fan in any respect. I really did not like him in 2016 for a number of reasons, especially because he was really mean to a few of my friends who were running for president. An occupational hazard in the Senate means all your colleagues are going to be running for president every four years. He was especially mean to my friend Ted [Cruz], whom I helped a lot on the campaign trail. I didn’t trust Trump for that reason alone. I also didn’t think he was authentic in his conservative policy proposals that he was using to advance himself and so I was not supportive. I was even antagonistic.
Several common acquaintances told me, that after he got elected, but before he was sworn in, I should go and see him. They told me it was probably better to break the ice then, and go and sit down with him.
So, I went to New York to the Trump Tower and sat down with him. He, as I suspected, was angry with me and took 10 to 15 minutes to tell me how much. At first, I kept trying to use my Utah, missionary style approach with him, “I am sorry to hear that. I can hear you are disappointed.” You know, just sort of ate butter.
But then as I was prayerfully deciding what to do, it occurred to me to speak to him in very direct terms. Maybe he will grasp that, because that is his approach. I said, “Look, let me put it this way. Insofar as you fight for constitutionally limited government, especially insofar as you fight to restore the vertical protection of federalism and the horizontal protection of separation of powers, I will be your ally and your friend.
“And insofar as you work to undercut constitutionally limited government, and if you erode federalism, separation of powers or any other feature of constitutionally limited government, I will be a pain in your neck and a thorn in your side. I will be your worst nightmare. I will be unrelenting.”
After that point, I don’t think we ever had a hostile word spoken between us. I voted less with him than any other Republican senator with the exception of Rand Paul and Susan Collins and that reflects what I told him in that first conversation. I was completely upfront with him. The reason we got along so well, is that I told him that upfront. If I disagreed with him, I let him know, and I disagreed with him plenty of times, but always with respect.
The problems of January 6, people attribute to Trump, and also try to involve me, but that isn’t fair, given the fact that I worked really, really hard to diffuse this thing. I explained to the President days after the election, once the Electoral College meets and cast its votes, you have to come right out and say you accept the results. Once that finite window between election day and the meeting of the Electoral College happens, any litigation you want to do, is finished. It’s done. I said I’d strongly suggest that you come right out and say you will accept the result. There really was nothing for Congress to do. First thing on the morning of January 6, I certified the election results.