As Congress works to wrap things up for the year, the last ten days have been busy in the Senate. I’m pleased to report that two issues I have been working on for years saw significant progress. I am less pleased to report that two trends that have been the source of much disappointment for conservatives don’t appear to be getting any better.
First of all, the Senate voted to end U.S. involvement in the military conflict between Saudi Arabia and Yemen. President Obama first committed our armed services to engaging in this conflict, and President Trump maintained our involvement in the conflict. However, Congress – the branch of government with the authority to declare war – never weighed in. Many Americans I spoke with were surprised to learn we were even involved in this conflict at all, since there didn’t appear to have ever been any public debate on whether we should commit our troops to join this conflict. I worked with a bipartisan group of senators to force a vote on this issue, and the Senate voted against staying involved in this conflict. This vote was a huge win for those of us who want to see the Constitution followed when it comes to making the serious to commitment to send our armed forces into harms way.
Second, the Senate voted to pass the First Step Act. This bill is the culmination of years of work to build a bipartisan coalition to reform our criminal justice system. This bill makes common-sense reforms to give judges more discretion to make sure a criminal’s punishment fits the crime. In addition, this bill will strengthen communities and lower the costs that come from excessive incarceration. As a former federal prosecutor, I saw first-hand how our criminal justice system was wrecking lives and destabilizing communities with a one-size-fits-all sentencing program. I was honored to be part of the team of legislators who worked to bring these reforms across the finish line. The House of Representatives has also overwhelmingly voted to pass this legislation, and President Trump has been a strong supporter all along the way. We expect he will sign it into law soon.
In addition to these highlights in the Senate, I’m sorry to report the Senate hasn’t gotten any more serious about responsibly funding the government. Just last night we passed another short-term continuing resolution. Once again this was a spending bill that was held until the last minute against the backdrop of a potential government shutdown. While the Senate did pass several separate appropriations bills this year, it still has a long way to go to return to a responsible process for funding the government where all senators are given a voice in shaping the legislation that funds the federal government. The next spending fight will happen in February, and Democrats will be in control of the House. This is hardly encouraging, since Speaker Pelosi is the one who pioneered the process of funding the government through continuing resolutions instead of the traditional budgeting process. I will continue to do everything I can to change this disastrous course.
Finally, late last night, the Senate tried to approve a lands bill package. I am a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and I am Chairman of the Subcommittee on Public Lands. I was extremely disappointed that I wasn’t able to see this bill until 10:00 a.m. on the day of the vote. In fact, I had to get the text of the bill from a lobbyist. For this reason, I refused to offer my consent to allow a vote on the bill unless the sponsors of the bill would include language that would exempt Utah from the Antiquities Act – like Wyoming and Alaska. The sponsors refused to accommodate this request, so unfortunately the Senate will have to revisit this public lands package at another time. As a Senator from a state that is 2/3s federal public land, I will continue to fight to make sure Utah’s interests are served in any public lands bill.
I appreciate your support, and I am looking forward to 2019. Several strong new conservatives will be coming to the Senate, and I am excited to get to work with them. There is a lot to do, and with your help, I believe there is a lot we can get done.
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