Mike Lee: From Tea Party Firebrand to Senate Dealmaker

Politico profiles Sen. Mike Lee, noting that he has transformed himself into an unexpected dealmaker who arguably holds more sway inside the Capitol than GOP presidential candidates Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul. 

Report Burgess Everett and Seung Min Kim:

In his five years on the job, Lee has agitated his own leadership with stubborn partisanship one moment, teamed up with Democrats on ambitious legislation the next — and became a sought-after endorsement in the GOP presidential primary.

Now he’s embarking on his biggest project yet, one that places him directly at odds with Cruz: Reforming the nation’s criminal justice system. Though by some metrics Lee is among the most partisan senators to serve in the Senate in decades, he’s simultaneously pursued party-splitting deals like reforming surveillance laws and scrapping mandatory minimum sentences — crusades that have put him at odds at times with each of the senators running for president.

“When you have members of your own party who don’t like legislation that you’re working on, that does create a need for a tricky balance. But I don’t feel conflicted on it ideologically,” the 44-year-old lawmaker said in a recent interview with POLITICO in his office. “The parties are irreconcilably in disagreement on some issues. We’ve got … kind of an obligation to pursue opportunities where we’re not irreconcilably in conflict.”