ST. GEORGE — The day after the impeachment of President Donald Trump ended with the Senate majority voting to acquit, Sen. Mitt Romney, the lone Republican to vote to convict, has garnered both praise and condemnation from political pundits, elected leaders and citizens both nationally and in Utah.
“I know there is going to be a lot of blowback from leaders in my party here. I presume I will receive the same reaction from leaders in my party in Utah,” Romney told reporters during a teleconference prior to his vote Wednesday. “And of course, the animosity that might be leveled from people on the street is going to be real as well.”
It didn’t take long for those words to come to pass.
“I think it’s a disgrace,” St. George resident Ashley Morrow, who described herself as being very conservative, said as she stood in front of the Washington County Library in St. George. “I think he let down the people of Utah, and honestly, I think it was a payback, a revenge thing.”
Morrow’s thoughts were shared on the national level by Donald Trump, Jr. on Twitter.
“Mitt Romney is forever bitter that he will never be POTUS. He was too weak to beat the Democrats then so he’s joining them now,” Trump. Jr. wrote. “He’s now officially a member of the resistance & should be expelled from the @GOP.”
Mitt Romney is forever bitter that he will never be POTUS. He was too weak to beat the Democrats then so he’s joining them now.
He’s now officially a member of the resistance & should be expelled from the @GOP.
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) February 5, 2020
Romney’s vote also robs the president and his supporters of talking points declaring the impeachment to be an entirely partisan affair. Of the two articles of impeachment presented before the Senate, while Romney voted guilty on the first charge related to abuse of power, he voted not guilty on the second charge accusing the president of obstructing Congress.
“The allegations made in the articles of impeachment are very serious. As a Senator-juror, I swore an oath, before God, to exercise ‘impartial justice,’” Romney said Wednesday on the Senate floor prior to the vote. “I am a profoundly religious person. My faith is at the heart of who I am. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the President, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced. I was not wrong.”
Trump has been quick to denounce Romney in speeches made Thursday. The first jab at Romney came during the National Prayer Breakfast that morning.
“I don’t like people who use their faith as a justification for doing what they know is wrong,” Trump said.
The president’s second comment on the issue came during an address at the White House.
“And then you had some that used religion as a crutch. They never used it before. But you know it’s a failed presidential candidate, so things can happen when you fail so badly running for president,” Trump said.
The day after the impeachment vote, Romney returned to Utah where he met with the leadership of the Utah Legislature behind closed doors.
Many legislators disagreed with his decision to vote the way he did and were concerned about repercussions for the state. Still, some said his quick trip back to Utah from Washington, D.C., to elaborate on voting his conscience helped ease their frustration with the politician who holds celebrity status in Utah.
“It was a very frank conversation, and people shared their opinions back and forth,” Republican House Speaker Brad Wilson said.
Utah is deeply conservative, but many voters remain wary of Trump’s behavior and his comments about women, immigrants and other issues.
Trump won the state in 2016, and his move to downsize two sprawling national monuments in the southern part of the state the following year earned him lasting appreciation from many state leaders.
“(Romney) voted his conscience, and I think I’ll say I’ll let it stand at that,” Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said during an afternoon sit-down with the press. “I’d like to stay focused on things that make a difference for Utah and what we can do that actually affect us.”
Stuart added that they spoke with Romney about the good they felt Trump’s policies had been for Utah overall. Romney appeared to agree, Stuart said, noting Romney’s previous declaration that he voted with the president’s policies 80% of the time.
The question of a proposed bill from Rep. Tim Quinn, R-Heber City, that would provide a way to recall a sitting senator, was also brought up. Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said the bill would likely be declared unconstitutional and pointed to previous examples where similar measures failed in other states.
“Let’s focus on things that make a difference,” Vickers said. “Does that (proposed bill) make a difference?”
Republican Rep. Phil Lyman wants to censure Romney but nevertheless said he appreciates that the senator voted his conscience.
“We’re unhappy that you took this position with the president, we think it’s disruptive nationally, we think it harms Utah, and we’ve got some damage control to do as a result of it,” Lyman’s censure resolution says.
Asked about possible repercussions for Utah over Romney’s vote, Lyman said, “relationships are important.”
Another Southern Utah representative that believes a message needs to be sent to Romney is Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George.
“We’re disappointed in the way he performed his duties,” Brooks said. “Make no qualms about it. I’m deeply disturbed by his actions of late.”
Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, expressed wariness toward the idea of censuring Romney.
“I would not want to be censured based on a single vote,” Ipson said.
Rep. Travis Seegmiller, R-St. George, said he did not agree with Romney’s vote but said it will be left to the voters to ultimately decide if the senator reflects their values.
“Mitt Romney has made it clear he ‘voted his conscience.’ I think all leaders must vote their conscience,” Seegmiller said. “But let me be very clear that I would not have voted the same way Romney did on the first article of impeachment. Mitt and I totally disagree on this one. Ultimately, it is up to the good and wise people of our great state to decide if they think that Romney’s personal values reflect the will of the people of Utah that he represents.”
Additional statements disapproving of Romney’s vote have come from the Utah Republican Party and Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah.
Despite the condemnation and disapproval, Romney’s actions gained praise from others locally and statewide.
“The state of Utah and, indeed, the nation as a whole witnessed a rare act of unparalleled political courage,” the Utah United Party said in a statement. “Senator Mitt Romney’s decision to vote to convict the president on the charge of abuse of power was a powerful reminder that moral courage is sorely lacking in today’s political environment but that there are individuals who still hold to a sense of the importance of their duty to the country.”
Carol Nichols, of St. George, called Romney brave.
“I think it was a very brave thing to have voted his conscience,” she said. “I’m very proud to have him as my representative. I think it’s a great thing he did.”
While leaving a meet-and-greet meeting for a congressional candidate at the library in St. George, Springdale resident Dianne McDonald said she planned to call Romney’s office and thank him.
“I think he showed a lot of courage,” she said. “I think he did the right thing, and I wish there’d been more Republicans that had held the president responsible for his actions. Romney should be thanked.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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