Mike Lee thought a change in Senate leadership—specifically, him becoming a member of it—would provoke energetic policy discussions in the upper chamber. That was his justification earlier this month when he campaigned to replace Senator John Barrasso as the chair of the Republican Policy Committee, whose seat, Lee thought, was opening up. Lee has carefully worked to shift his reputation in recent years from Tea Party hell-raiser to serious ideas guy. He seemed to see the committee chairmanship as an opening to give his reformist agenda more prominence and leverage in the Senate.
The position “involves preparing white papers, providing members with research, so you can discuss these issues in an open forum and you can help members make decisions that benefit them and their constituents,” Lee told The Washington Examiner after announcing his bid.
But Lee, and his ambitious policy aspirations, will have to wait.
On Monday, one week after announcing his interest in Barrasso’s position, the Utah senator dropped his efforts, which hadn’t seen much support. Mitch McConnell and others had rejected Lee’s argument that Barrasso’s seat would be vacant at the end of the year because of term limiting. It was all a bit of an internecine debate: If they’d concluded that Lee’s bid was valid, it would’ve had consequences for other high-ranking members who’d assumed leadership positions at the same time as Barrasso. Lawmakers didn’t want to shake things up in an election year. Instead, they insisted, Barrasso should be able to serve in the Senate’s fourth-highest position until 2018.