Mike Lee: Renegade Republican, Bipartisan Dealmaker

The New York Times profiles Sen. Mike Lee, whose dedication to libertarian principles makes him willing to reach across the aisle to work with Democrats on some policy issues, despite his reputation as a conservative firebrand.

Reports Jennifer Steinhauer:

In a Congress more known for its predictable partisan lanes, Mr. Lee is trying an unusual straddle.

As lawmakers rapidly confront a deadline over spending that threatens another government shutdown next month, Mr. Lee faces a stark choice: Will he continue defying Republican leaders who are trying to demonstrate their ability to govern, or will he instead focus on building a legacy of serious libertarian-leaning policy, with the help of Democrats?

“He was elected by and large by the Tea Party, and he does owe them a great deal of gratitude,” said Orrin G. Hatch, the senior Republican senator from Utah. “But sooner or later he’s going to have to think these things through.”

Few things roil Democrats more than attacks on the health law and threats to shut down the government, two of Mr. Lee’s signature moves. Yet Mr. Lee, who upset Senator Robert F. Bennett in 2010 to become the Tea Party’s first victor in a major primary, has found himself aligning with liberal Democrats over Republicans on issues like privacy, criminal justice overhaul and oversight of big business.

“I have him on speed dial,” said Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont.

Mr. Lee co-sponsored, with Mr. Leahy, a bill that curtailed the government’s surveillance powers under the Patriot Act, again opposing Mr. McConnell. He is working with Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, on a broad overhaul of sentencing laws. And he and Ms. Klobuchar are examining several corporate mergers for possible antitrust problems.

“I really enjoy those great bipartisan moments,” Mr. Lee said in an interview in his office on Capitol Hill.