Meet the senator on Trump's Supreme Court shortlist

Meet the senator on Trump's Supreme Court shortlist
© Greg Nash

The Senate could be debating one of its own as it works to fill retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy’s seat on the Supreme Court.

GOP Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeReexamining presidential power over national monuments Utah group complains Mia Love should face criminal penalties for improper fundraising Senate approves 4B spending bill MORE (Utah) is being touted by conservatives as a dark-horse pick that would stick to the letter of the Constitution, unlike previous Republican nominees who have frustrated the base by moving to the middle once on the court.

Lee, a 47-year-old senator in his second term, is known for his hardball conservative tactics. Those tactics, at times, have rankled his colleagues and his libertarian leanings have made him an outlier in the GOP caucus on issues like foreign policy.

But as the only lawmaker on Trump’s short list he’s got the vocal backing of Senate conservatives, including Republican Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate NY Times, McCabe give Trump perfect cover to fire Rosenstein, Sessions Live coverage: Cruz, O'Rourke clash in Texas debate MORE (Texas). Cruz has launched a one-man public relations campaign to tout Lee, one of his closest Senate allies, as Trump mulls his nominee to be Kennedy’s successor.

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President TrumpDonald John TrumpHannity urges Trump not to fire 'anybody' after Rosenstein report Ben Carson appears to tie allegation against Kavanaugh to socialist plot Five takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate MORE, however, has lucked out. He has a sure thing, battle-tested, ready, and willing to serve: Sen. Mike Lee,” Cruz wrote in a Fox News op-ed.

Roughly 20 conservatives — including GOP Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulConservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Senate approves 4B spending bill Some employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report MORE (Ky.), who is also close to Lee, and powerful donor Rebekah Mercer — have signed a letter backing Lee because he has a “proven record,” according to The Associated Press.

Lee has publicly expressed interest in the job, noting that he’s been watching Supreme Court arguments “for fun” since he was 10 years old. He previously served as the former assistant U.S. attorney for the district of Utah and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.

A Lee pick could also help him easily clear the chamber, where senators are wary to vote against a former colleague from their own party.

When he was picked to be attorney general, then-GOP Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump vows to get rid of 'stench' at DOJ, FBI NY Times, McCabe give Trump perfect cover to fire Rosenstein, Sessions House Judiciary on NY Times article: I intend to subpoena 'McCabe Memos' MORE (Ala.), for example, received a days-long public grilling by Democrats only to be supported by every GOP senator as well as Democratic Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinCook Political Report moves Texas Senate race to ‘toss-up’ The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh McCaskill to oppose Kavanaugh nomination MORE (W.Va.). Manchin, who is up for reelection in November, would face heavy pressure to back Lee.

With the GOP 51-seat majority effectively capped at 50, buzz about Lee being nominated sparked a wave of questions about whether he would vote for himself if he fails to win over any Democrats. A spokesman for Lee has called the speculation “premature.”

Lee spoke with the president about the Supreme Court vacancy, a spokesman for the senator, confirmed earlier this week.

But he’s not seen as being in the top tier of potential picks for replacing Kennedy. Trump is said to be focusing on federal appeals court judges Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett and Raymond Kethledge.

Lee’s backstory is also missing some of the top attributes Trump has publicly said he wants in a nominee, including an Ivy League background. Lee attended Brigham Young University both for college and law school.

Perhaps his biggest roadblock to getting the nod from a president who puts a premium on loyalty: He didn’t vote for Trump during the 2016 election, instead supporting independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin.

“I had signaled in the past concerns that I had with my party's nominee. I've made no secret about that and I don't feel any desire to rehearse those now,” Lee said at an event in Utah last year. “I saw in Evan McMullin an opportunity to register a protest vote."