Mike Lee and Evan McMullin Clash at U.S. Senate Debate


Sen. Mike Lee (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

By Vanessa Hudson, Assistant News Editor


Sen. Mike Lee and independent challenger Evan McMullin took the stage in their first and only debate against each other for the open Senate seat. Heated exchanges between the opponents and a lively crowd of Lee supporters filled the Ragan Theater at Utah Valley University on Monday night. 

The Republican incumbent, Lee, has been the senator of Utah since 2011 and is looking to remain in office for another term. His challenger, McMullin, ran as an independent candidate for president in 2016 and is now running for Senate as an independent with support from the Democratic Party. In 2016, Lee voted for McMullin who received 21% of Utah’s vote for president. 

The debate exchanges were sometimes intense, with both candidates taking jabs at each other throughout the night, especially when it came to campaign advertisements and the events surrounding the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. 

Lee’s Jan. 6 Texts

Lee has faced backlash from some Republicans and Democrats regarding his involvement in the Jan. 6 attack, where rioters stormed the Capitol in protest of former President Donald Trump’s election loss. 

In April, CNN obtained text messages between former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Lee, in which the senator said it may be possible for states to send alternate slates of electors, in order to reject electoral votes for President Joe Biden. 

According to The Salt Lake Tribune, Lee texted Meadows on Jan. 4, “We need something from state legislatures to make this legitimate and to have any hope of winning.” Lee also said he was spending “14 hours a day” calling state legislators. 

After being asked if Biden fairly won the 2020 election, Lee said, “Biden is our president.” However, Lee added, “Now as to whether there were errors, as to whether some states might have conducted their elections better than others, there’s always room for debate and questions about that.”

He argued that Utah has elaborate procedures for voter registration rules and his opponent supports “legislation backed by the Democrats.”

McMullin responded, “I think you knew how important [the Electoral College] was when you sought to urge the White House that had lost an election to find fake electors to overturn the will of the people.”

The audience audibly stirred with this comment, but McMullin continued, “Senator Lee, that was the most egregious betrayal of our nation’s constitution in its history by a U.S. senator.” The audience booed McMullin after he made his statement. 

Political Issues

Lee and McMullin were asked about other important topics such as inflation, abortion and the Great Salt Lake. 

When asked about inflation, both candidates agreed that federal government spending was at an all time high with Lee arguing, “We need a Republican-controlled Senate to do some work.” 

McMullin said, “We need to send people to Washington who are working to stand up both to Republicans and Democrats in the White House.” 

On abortion, both Lee and McMullin stated they are “pro-life.”

Lee said, “Roe vs. Wade was a legal fiction cut out of whole cloth from the imagination of a few Supreme Court justices. I’m glad it’s been overturned.” 

McMullin said he opposes extremes on both sides of the issue. “It’s absolutely, critically important that we find a constructive way forward on the issue,” he said.  

The environmental issues surrounding the Great Salt Lake were brought up. Both candidates agreed that better water storage infrastructure is necessary, but they disagreed on how Utah gets there. 

McMullin said, “We need leaders who are going to work across party lines to solve problems and ensure that we have what we need to strengthen our water infrastructure and conservation practices.”

Lee said, “The need to build water storage infrastructure is often thwarted, slowed sometimes by decades by NEPA and other permitting restrictions.” Lee said he introduced an act that would streamline federal permitting. 

Election Day is Nov. 8 with mail-in ballots being sent out on Oct. 18. For more information on voting, visit voteutah.gov. To rewatch the debate, visit the Utah Debate Commission’s YouTube.


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