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'He hurt the party': Utah leaders criticize Sen. Mitt Romney's anti-Trump op-ed

SALT LAKE CITY โ€” Utah's Republican senior senator says his new GOP colleague might want to take a "mulligan" on the harsh words he had for President Donald Trump.

Sen. Mike Lee said he disagrees with the op-ed Sen. Mitt Romney wrote for the Washington Post the day before he took the oath of office Thursday.

"I don't think it's the right approach," Lee said on Fox's "The Ingraham Angle" with former Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz sitting in as the host.

"I respect the fact that he wants to support the president and work with him where he agrees with him," Lee said. "I don't think it's necessarily helpful to come in and attack his character right at the get-go, right at the beginning of his legislative career."

Romney expressed his disappointment in Trump's leadership, saying his conduct over the past two years, and particularly his actions in December, are evidence that the president has not risen to the mantle of the office.

Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, with wife Ann holding the Bible, is sworn into office by Vice President Mike Pence in the Old Senate Chamber in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on January 3, 2019.

Cheryl Diaz Meyer

Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, with wife Ann holding the Bible, is sworn into office by Vice President Mike Pence in the Old Senate Chamber in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on January 3, 2019.

"With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable. And it is in this province where the incumbent's shortfall has been most glaring," he wrote.

On Wednesday, when the Deseret News sought Lee's take on Romney's piece, his office said Lee had no plans to comment and generally doesn't talk about other senators' op-eds.

Chafftez also criticized Romney on Thursday.

"He hurt the (Republican) party. I think he also hurt himself," Chaffetz said on "Fox & Friends."

FILE - Rep. Jason Chaffetz meets with the editorial board at the Deseret News in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

FILE - Rep. Jason Chaffetz meets with the editorial board at the Deseret News in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017.

"And he hurt the Utahns. Remember, he was elected by the people of Utah to represent the state of Utah, to solve the problems," he said. "This doesn't solve any problems. This creates a new problem. This was not the Mitt Romney we ever saw in Utah during the 2018 election."

Chaffetz, who campaigned for Romney around the country in the 2012 presidential race, said he was "very disappointed" with the new senator.

"I had several personal conversations where he went out of his way to say I don't want to get in a tit-for-tat with the president. Well, this is exactly the opposite of that," he said.

Chaffetz reiterated some of those thoughts during his interview with Lee, saying Romney is known for solving problems but his op-ed creates one.

"I think that's right," Lee said, adding everyone's entitled to a mulligan once in a while.

"Maybe he'll want to take his mulligan on this one," said Lee, who hosted a reception for Romney after the swearing-in ceremony.

Lee prefaced his comments about Romney's newspaper column by saying retired GOP Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch โ€” who Romney replaced โ€” didn't tell him how to do his job when he first took office and that he intends to "extend the same courtesy to my new colleague."

Chaffetz also questioned the timing of the op-ed.

Romney told the Deseret News on Wednesday that he wants people in Washington and elsewhere to know where he stands.

President Donald Trump speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House, as Vice President Mike Pence and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen listen, after a meeting with Congressional leaders on border security, Friday, Jan. 4, 2019, at the White House in Washington.

Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press

President Donald Trump speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House, as Vice President Mike Pence and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen listen, after a meeting with Congressional leaders on border security, Friday, Jan. 4, 2019, at the White House in Washington.

"I'm not sure when the right time is to describe what your perspectives and priorities are other than as you're about to go to work in the chamber," he said. "I don't know that two months in or six months in or 12 months in is better than the beginning. But I would think the right time to describe your views and priorities is up front."

Fox Business host Lou Dobbs called out Romney as well, describing him as a "traitor" and "treasonous" and said he "winds like a snake."

Both Dobbs and Chaffetz noted that Romney accepted Trump's endorsement of his Senate campaign.

"I mean, what betrayal," Dobbs said.

Romney, who has repeatedly said he largely agrees with Trump's agenda, wrote in the op-ed he would work with the president and other senators when the policies put forward are in the best interest of the country and Utah, while opposing those that are not.

Lee said on Fox that he had concerns about Trump but is pleased with what he has done. He said the president has made the country safer, made the economy stronger and fought big government.

"That's what we elected him to do," he said.