WASHINGTON -- Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) insists it is the Constitution, not politics, driving his vow to unilaterally block all of President Barack Obama's nominees submitted to the Senate. But it turns out Lee's political action committee is also raising money off of his effort.
Lee testified to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday that he is using his authority as a senator to block Obama's nominees because of his constitutional concerns with the president's recess appointments last month. Republicans say Obama's appointments were illegal since the Senate was not technically in recess, and to further make that point, Lee vowed last week to jam the entire nomination process until Obama rescinds those appointments.
Obama's appointments included three people being posted at the National Labor Relations Board and Richard Cordray being installed as the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an entity Republicans have fought to dismantle.
"Regardless of whatever political concerns I might have with these nominations, my overriding, dominating concerns here is [sic] not partisan, rather it's an institutional and constitutional concern that I'm here to explain," Lee told the GOP-led committee, which met for a hearing titled, "Uncharted Territory: What Are The Consequences Of President Obama's Unprecedented 'Recess' Appointments?'"
But in a letter sent out Tuesday by his political action committee, the Constitutional Conservative Fund (CCF), Lee asks supporters to donate money so that he can keep standing up to Obama by blocking his nominees. In the letter, which came via email with the subject line "We Have The President's Attention Now," the Utah Republican celebrates that Obama singled him out for criticism on the matter and says he needs supporters to back him up financially to help him stymie the nomination process.
"After I vowed to resist the president's unconstitutional recess appointments, he used his weekly address to say, 'Just two days ago, a senator from Utah promised to obstruct every single American I appoint to a judgeship or public service position... One senator gumming up the works for the whole country is certainly not what our founding fathers envisioned,'" reads the letter. "The president has now attacked me directly. Will you help me fight?"
Lee goes on to equate Obama with "a tyrannical Executive" and "a dangerously unchecked president who would violate our God-given rights as citizens of this country."
"As a U.S. Senator, I have an obligation to oppose the president's unconstitutional actions, but I need your help to win. Please consider a contribution to the Constitutional Conservatives Fund to tell this president he is not above the law!" the letter continues. "Your contribution will help me stand up to the president and fight the Democrats' billion-dollar attack machine. Join us TODAY!"
The CCF did not respond to a request for information on how much money it has raised since sending out the letter.
Brian Phillips, Lee's Senate communications director, said the senator's fundraising letter squares with his comments about not playing politics with the nomination process because Lee is focused on getting people elected to the Senate who share his constitutional values. Among the CCF's Senate endorsements so far: Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz.
Lee made the case in Wednesday's hearing "that Congress is made up of individuals and that it's important who those individuals are," Phillips said. "Do we have people in the Senate who will stand up when the president ... violates the Constitution in the way [Obama] has? On the CCF side, [Lee] is sending the message to those who are part of that group that we need to elect people who see the Constitution the same way."
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