The Rise of Mike Lee

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 22 2010 9:20 AM

The Rise of Mike Lee

I'm told that Mike Lee, the 39-year-old senator-elect from Utah, had the crowd eating out his hand at a Friday speech at the Federalist Society's annual meeting. An attorney who clerked for Samuel Alito, he informed the crowd that he'd wonk out about Constitutional law, and then he did. This was a week after he stole some of the spotlight on the earmarks issue by asking his colleagues to make their vote on an earmark moratorium public.

Jon Karl talks to Lee and finds him out in front on the debt ceiling issue, too. On being told that failing to raise the ceiling would mean disaster.

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That presupposes that we continue spending at unsustainable rates. I'm not going to vote to increase the debt ceiling.

During his Senate campaign, Lee floated the idea of cutting the budget by 40 percent to erase the deficit right away. When that got some negative attention he described it as more of a thought experiment. But so far he's promising do what FreedomWorks and other Tea Party groups hoped he would when they backed him -- using a very safe seat as the high ground to launch Overton Window-shifting attacks on the political consensus.

Forget the question of whether Jim DeMint hurt the the GOP in a few Senate races. If all he did was help Rand Paul and Mike Lee into the Senate, he's tripled the number of die-hard strict constructionists in the GOP conference.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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