SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney was back in Utah Thursday explaining his vote to convict President Donald Trump amid pushes by some angry GOP state legislators to censure Romney or create a way to recall the senator.
Romney did not speak publicly in the state and his meetings with legislative leaders were held behind closed doors.
Many legislators disagreed with his decision on Trump and were concerned about repercussions for the state. Still, some said his quick trip back to Utah from Washington 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 on 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.
It’s unclear whether the GOP-dominated Legislature will advance censure or recall proposals. But Wilson did say there would be a separate resolution to send a message of appreciation to Trump for “the great work his administration has done.”
Republican Rep. Phil Lyman wants to censure Romney but nevertheless said he appreciates that the senator voted his conscience.
Lyman’s censure resolution says, “‘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.”
Asked about possible repercussions for Utah over Romney’s vote, Lyman said “relationships are important.”
A separate proposal would create a path to hold a vote on recalling a U.S. senator, and while it’s not directed specifically at Romney, interest picked up this week.
Similar laws passed in other states haven’t fared well in the courts, and there’s a good chance any Utah measure would be declared unconstitutional, Republican state Sen. Evan Vickers said.
Some GOP legislators in Utah appeared ready to move on from the dust-up and get back to making state laws.
“I, for one, wouldn’t want to be judged, censured, for one vote I had when he makes 80 percent of his votes to support the president,” said Republican Sen. Don Ipson. “Not everyone would say his vote is wrong.”