Bob Bernick’s notebook: Do lawmakers want revenge on Romney?

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Over the next couple of weeks, Republicans in the Utah Legislature, and maybe GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, are going to have to decide just how much they want to beat up Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, over his vote to impeach President Donald Trump.

Romney visited GOP legislative leadership Thursday, spending separate time with Senate and House Republican bosses.

The meetings were closed, but the leaders spoke to reporters afterward — all saying the meetings were cordial (“tense” was a word House Speaker Brad Wilson used.)

Romney explained, we were told, how he came to vote in favor of one article of impeachment — abuse of power.

He was the only GOP senator to vote against Trump — the only senator in U.S. history to vote to impeach a president of his own political party.

Before legislators will be three issues:

Wilson, R-Kaysville, and Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, will sponsor a resolution saying how much legislators appreciate all that Trump has done for Utah — no doubt emphasizing the president’s executive order that reduces the size of the Obama-created Bears Ears National Monument and the Clinton-created Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, among others.

Herbert may want to join in this resolution, and if he does will be sent to his desk for his signature.

Romney may not even be mentioned in this resolution.

Rep. Tim Quinn, R-Heber, has a bill that would create a recall process for any Utah U.S. senator. obtained a constitutional note written by legislative lawyers which strongly suggests that Quinn’s HB217 is unconstitutional.

While Quinn says the bill is not aimed at Romney — it was in the process months before the impeachment started — it’s also true that Quinn has gotten around 20 GOP lawmaker co-sponsors since Romney’s Thursday vote to impeach.

If it passes the House and Senate, Herbert can sign it into law, veto it, or let it become law without his signature.

Finally, Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, plans to introduce a resolution that will praise Trump’s help for Utah (as the Wilson/Adams resolution will), but goes further and calls for an official “censure” of Romney for his impeachment vote.

Lyman’s and the leaders’ resolution — with or without Herbert’s approval — are only statements of sense of the Legislature. They have no power of law and have no impact beyond that opinion.

Quinn’s bill is a law. And should it pass angry Republican Utahns could try to start the process of recalling Romney — although opposing groups could challenge the new recall law in court and likely win before it ever got to a public vote on Romney.

But the overall question Wilson, Adams, their leadership teams, and Herbert, must address is just how much they want Republican state leaders to beat up on Romney.

Wilson told reporters Thursday that he wants to take a few days, maybe weeks, to let tempers cool — then the House GOP caucus will discuss all of this anti-Romney stuff.

I offer two thoughts — one short term, another long term:

First, the national press will have a field day with Utah if Lyman’s “censure” of Romney passes. Fox News will love it, CNN, MSNBC will paint Utah as a bunch of vindictive Trumpsters.

And the “censure” won’t mean a thing, really.

And Utah independents and Democrats will have a campaign issue against any GOP legislator who votes for it. Most Republican House and Senate members are in safe districts — but a handful in both houses are in swing districts. And I don’t see any GOP lawmakers voting against the Lyman “censure,” that would be a tough vote.

Second, long term no one can now say where Trump will end up. If he loses re-election this year, he’s out of power.

And I believe and have said for some time, that there’s a real chance the New York Attorney General and/or federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York could bring charges against Trump for bank fraud, tax evasion, or laundering foreign funds (from the Russians) through his real estate development firms.

Trump could be sitting in a jail cell, or paying multi-million dollar criminal fines to stay out of one.

Come 2024 election, will anyone remember or care that Romney voted to impeach under these circumstances?

Romney could be a national hero by then — much as the late-Sen. John McCain is seen today.

More to the point, would a vindictive GOP House and Senate paint Utah as what a lot of liberals will see it — a right-wing Republican enclave that eats one of its own for partisan punishment?

Utah’s economy is going great. A lot of high-tech firms want to come here for the fine workforce, beautiful quality of life and welcoming nature.

Turn us into a GOP partisan punching bag among top businesses we want to recruit here for what?

Finally, as Channel 2/Y2 Analytics polling has just found out, the Republican Legislature and Herbert are not doing very well these days in the eyes of the people. And we all know why:

The Republicans changed the medical marijuana citizen initiative that passed November 2018.

They changed the full Medicaid expansion initiative that passed November 2018 (only to see the Trump administration refuse to give needed waivers).

And after a December special session that adopted a huge tax reform package (that gave a $160 million tax cut, but raised the sales tax on food and would have seen a gas tax hike), GOP leaders and Herbert had to repeal it in a real political defeat just two weeks ago in the face of a popular recall referendum.

In short, the Republican leaders and caucuses are not well-liked, or maybe even much trusted, as the 2020 election year starts — with all 75 House members and half of the Senate up in November.

Pass a likely unconstitutional U.S. senator recall bill — which is seen as aimed at Romney?

Pass a resolution “censuring” Romney as many Utahns are praising him (yes, many are condemning him, also).

Or do GOP leaders and Herbert want to just take a step back, deal with the real problems of this session — like passing a balanced budget that’s harmed by tax reform repeal, and keep your emotions in check.

Utah is a very red state, and some right-wing Republicans are calling for Romney’s head.

But all that praise about Republican responsible, reasonable leadership could go down the tubes, as well.