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Lee sworn in as Utah's newest senator

Published January 7, 2011 3:56 pm

Senate • Republican becomes Utah's 16th U.S. senator since statehood; at 39, he's youngest member of esteemed body.
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Washington • Utah's newest senator, Mike Lee, left his far-flung temporary office on Wednesday en route to the Senate chamber to take the oath of office and join the 100-member body.

After herding his family and aides onto an elevator, a maintenance worker asked the group where they were from. Told Utah, the worker replied that he knew of Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch but wasn't sure who else represented the state.

"Hi, I'm Mike," Lee said, noting he was the other, less-known guy. It may have been the only time Wednesday he had to introduce himself.

A short time later, Lee stood before Vice President Joe Biden on the Senate floor and swore an oath to defend the Constitution, a document that Lee cited repeatedly during the campaign, capitalizing on a tidal wave of voter anger against Washington. If Lee had a theme for Wednesday, it was the Constitution.

"This is a great land, and that governing document was written by wise men offered up by divine providence for that very purpose, and I am grateful to be an heir to that legacy," Lee told a crowd of supporters as he sported his new Senate lapel pin and mugged for the cameras with his wife, Sharon, twin sons, James and John, and daughter, Eliza.

Lee, who ousted three-term incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett, also paraded his powerful connections on his first day in office, inviting two U.S. Supreme Court justices to the gallery and a reception as his guests. Lee, who twice clerked for Justice Samuel Alito, once at the high court and previously at the appellate level, drew robust applause from Alito and Justice Clarence Thomas.

Alito told The Tribune that it was "fantastic" to be present for the swearing in of his former clerk, joking that it made him feel old.

"I'm very proud of him," Alito said.

Former Utah Gov. Olene Walker, also on hand, said she was sure that Lee would continue to be a good conservative voice for the state.

"I'm certain that he'll do an outstanding job," Walker said. "I think it's too early to say what will happen because I think the next few years will be very revealing on how he reacts to the Senate and how the Senate reacts to him."

At 39, Lee now holds the distinction of being the Senate's youngest member. As a youngster, he served as a Senate page for Hatch, the state's longest-serving senator.

The 76-year-old Hatch noted at a reception he threw for Lee that it would take some time to get used to a new colleague after the loss of Bennett.

"It's naturally different, but Mike's a very good person and I think he'll make a fine senator," he said.

Hatch, with a hand on Lee's back, escorted him down the Senate aisle for the formal induction, and afterward pulled the newly minted senator aside.

"I told him I was proud of him," Hatch said.

The new senator, Utah's 16th since statehood, is the former general counsel to then-Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and son of former U.S. Solicitor General Rex E. Lee, who passed away in 1996. On Wednesday, Lee swore his oath while holding a well-worn Bible that his father had carried with him since high school.

Lee also placed his left hand on that Bible during a ceremonial oath-taking Wednesday afternoon before the news media in the Old Senate Chamber.

After a barrage of photos and a bit of quizzing from reporters, Lee stepped away from the spotlight and joined a tour of the U.S. Capitol, which didn't venture any farther than the Senate floor. But soon enough, Lee will have a much closer vantage point.

He is assigned Desk No. 6, second row from the back, second seat in, formerly occupied by Utah's Wallace Bennett, his son, Bob Bennett, and now, Sen. Mike Lee.

tburr@sltrib.com —

U.S., Utah constitutions

• To read the full text of the U.S. Constitution, go to http://constitutionus.com/

• For the full text of the Utah Constitution, go to http://bit.ly/fkm5IU ——






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