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Utah Sen. Mike Lee, who is on Donald Trump's lengthy short list for Supreme Court nominees, revealed Wednesday that he voted for independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin.
"It was a protest vote," he told an audience at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute in Salt Lake City, acknowledging he didn't know McMullin well, or much about him.
"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.… I saw in Evan McMullin an opportunity to register a protest vote."
Lee previously has said he would not vote for Trump, but until Wednesday declined to say who would get his vote.
McMullin finished third in Utah, behind Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Lee, who easily won re-election Tuesday to a second term in the Senate, has publicly criticized Trump, particularly for proposing a "religious test" in deciding to ban Muslims from entering the United States.
The Utah senator, along with his brother, Utah Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Thomas Lee, was included on a list of potential Supreme Court nominees Trump said he would choose from. He said he holds out hope that Trump acts differently in the White House than his rhetoric as a candidate on the campaign trail.
"I would hope so," Lee said.
A ban on Muslim immigrants "would not be an easy thing to get through Congress. I don't agree with that," Lee said. "On many occasions I've expressed concerns with anything that could be characterized as a religious test, being a member myself of a religious minority church, one whose members were ordered exterminated by the governor of Missouri on Oct. 27, 1838 not that I'm keeping score or anything. I'm worried by rhetoric suggestive of a religious test. So I'm not sure what his plans are in that regard," said Lee, a Mormon.
He quoted a radio commentator describing how Trump should be taken seriously, but not literally.
Asked if that reflected his view, he said questions remain "whether or not some of his more inflammatory comments were intended to be taken literally, and time will tell."
The senator's office issued a statement Wednesday seeking common ground with the incoming president.
"The entire election year has been humbling for all Americans, and especially so for the political establishment in Washington, D.C.," he said in the prepared remarks. "I congratulate President-elect Trump and look forward to helping him repeal Obamacare, return education to the states, reduce regulation and confirm conservative judges."
In his remarks at the policy institute breakfast, Lee singled out regulatory reform reducing the huge stack of rules federal rules as the best chance for quick action by the incoming president in tandem with the Republican-controlled Senate and House. But the steadfast opponent of Obamacare was careful not to say he was on board with repealing the health-care law outright.
"The Affordable Care Act encompasses so much of the health-care space it's physically impossible to just pull it out and leave nothing in its place. You have to have something to put there or the void itself will cause a lot of things to collapse," Lee said, several times repeating the goal of "repeal and replace." He said with the departure of President Barack Obama and his guaranteed veto of such repeal, he expects debate to "accelerate" about doing away with an individual mandate and instead "incentivizing" the purchase of health insurance, through tax deductions or credits.