Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's threat to trigger the "nuclear option" and roll back filibuster rules over executive appointments was little more than a scheme by the White House and Senate Democrats to distract the public from more serious issues, including Obamacare, U.S. Sen Mike Lee told Newsmax.
"It was wrong for us to even be having this discussion because it's a distraction, first of all. There's really no substance behind what he (Reid) was complaining about," Lee, a Utah Republican told Newsmax in an exclusive interview Tuesday.
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"Now this president has had 1,540 nominations confirmed by the Senate. He's only had four defeated," said Lee, disputing Reid’s claim that Senate Republicans were standing in the way of President Obama's efforts to form an administration.
"So this really was a distraction, a Democratic majority in the Senate is joining up with the White House in order to distract the attention of the American people away from the pressing issues of the day, most notably, Obamacare and the negative impact it's having on the Obama economy. They don't want to address this issue so they're doing everything they can to try to distract the public's attention away from it and onto something else," said Lee.
A first-term Senator, Lee did not join with fellow Republicans who brokered a deal with Reid Tuesday that paved the way for the approval of five of seven outstanding Obama nominees. Two of the president’s most controversial nominees to the National Labor Relations Board will be replaced with new candidates.
The Senate, including 17 Republicans, voted 71-29 Tuesday to approve the nomination of Richard Cordray, a former Ohio Attorney General, to head the controversial Consumer Finance Protection Board that Lee insists will wield enormous power without adequate Congressional oversight.
"I vote against Mr. Cordray just as I've voted against Mr. Cordray on previous occasions. I've done so because this is an agency that he's been appointed, he's been appointed to the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It's an agency created by the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation a few years ago, it's an agency that has unprecedented powers and almost no oversight by Congress," Lee said.
"Congress can't even control its budget, its revenue stream, and so like most Republicans I've been insisting that before we confirm anyone to head that bureau that we first get some significant concessions from Democrats by way of clarifications and limitations on the authority of the CFPB."
If Reid had gone forward and pulled the trigger on filibuster rules, moving to a simple majority vote on the president's nominations instead of the 60 votes now needed, it would have spelled trouble for Reid and his fellow Democrats should Republicans win control of the Senate in 2014 or 2016.
"Well, look, there's no question that there would have been ramifications for him had he done this," Lee said of Reid. "It's difficult for me to say exactly what they would be, and I would be reluctant to say what those would be in any event because we're still not certain that we're not going to face this at some point at the future. But any time there is that big of an effort to destroy and upend the traditions of the Senate, to break the rules of the Senate in order to change the Senate's rules, there will necessarily be ramifications from that and those won't be altogether pleasant."
In other matters, Lee said he supports Republican efforts in the House to delay the roll out of the individual mandate for health insurance as well as the employer mandate under Obamacare, which he insists should be scrapped altogether.
"All Americans who are concerned about Obamacare, about the fact that it's making healthcare less affordable and less fair, ought to be getting behind this idea that we will not fund the implementation of this law. The president has announced that he's not going to implement it as it's written and, as a result, we're not going to fund it," Lee said.
On immigration, Lee said he is also supportive of the House strategy of pursuing reform with "piecemeal, step-by-step" measures that first focus on border security, and he suggested that the Senate should do the same.
He said the battle over immigration reform, which has moved to the House after the Senate approved a bill, does not mean the effort at reform is dead.
"It would be unfortunate if, at the end of the day, Democrats are unwilling to pass anything simply because they're unable to achieve everything they want. They gummed up this process in the first place by insisting that the pathway to citizenship had to be a conditioned precedent to any kind of immigration reform effort in the Senate. That was a big mistake and it backfired on them," Lee said.
"I hope and expect that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the Senate will allow cooler heads to prevail once the House has acted and we'll see to it that we're able to pass something that deals with border security and visa modernization in a meaningful way," he said.
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