Sen. Mike Lee taking his stand against health care law to Iowa, may be eyeing White House

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 25 2013 6:40 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, defended his role Wednesday in the increasingly bitter battle over President Barack Obama's health care law that is splitting the GOP and bringing him increased national attention.

"I respectfully but strongly disagree with some of my Republican colleagues," Lee said of criticism from Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and others in the GOP about the tea party-led fight seen as threatening to shut down the government.

Hatch told reporters that Republicans need to avoid "immolating ourselves in front of everybody" shortly before Lee and others joined Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, on Tuesday in what amounted to an overnight filibuster on the Senate floor.

Lee, who'll be making his debut in the early presidential voting state of Iowa this November headlining a major conservative organization's fundraiser, said he's trying to protect Americans from the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

"What exactly about that is foolish, to say we need to tread carefully?" Lee asked of his call for stripping out funding for the health care law from the budget bill that must be passed by Oct. 1 to keep the government operating.

He said he does not believe that strategy will result in a government shutdown, despite the concerns raised by Hatch and others that Republicans will be blamed if a budget bill is not passed in time.

"I don't believe we will have a government shutdown. I never have. I have said from the beginning of this, we all know that government is going to be funded," Lee said. "The question is: Do we fund it with Obamacare or without?"

Although Cruz controlled the Senate floor for more than 20 hours, Lee pitched in multiple times with discussions that included recounting a childhood accident and a desire to be a pirate, The Associated Press reported.

Lee said he didn't feel overshadowed by Cruz, often mentioned as a contender for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.

"We're friends, we're colleagues, we're allies," he said. "I view him as a teammate."

While Cruz has already been spending time in Iowa, traditionally the first state to vote in presidential races, Lee will make his first appearance there at the 13th annual Friends of the Family fundraiser for the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

Lee, first elected to the Senate in 2010, said he has "absolutely no plans" to run for president.

"It is not that," he said of his trip to Iowa. "I've been invited to speak at an event out there, and I'm honored to do so."

The coalition is one of Iowa's most prominent social conservative organizations. Faith and Freedom Coalition President Steve Scheffler said choosing Lee to speak at the fundraiser was a "no-brainer."

Scheffler, Iowa's GOP National Committeeman, said the group was looking for someone who hadn't been to Iowa already and who does not "wilt under political pressure and is willing to stand up" for constitutional principles.

He said it doesn't matter to the 1,000 or so guests who will pay $55 to attend the fundraiser whether Lee is interested in the presidency. But if Lee does decide he wants the job, Scheffler said he'd have a receptive audience.

Iowa's conservative voters, he said, are looking for "people like Mike Lee who are willing to stick their neck out" on the issues that are important to them, including the health care law. "He's just right on target on every single issue."

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