Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday there are lessons to be learned from the fight Sen. Mike Lee helped lead against the new health care law. But he said Lee doesn't deserve all the blame for the federal government shutdown.
"As a Republican, I think there is blame to go around for everybody," the governor said at the taping of his monthly news conference on KUED Ch. 7. "I think it is unfair to say Sen. Lee is all to blame for this."
Herbert said he met with Lee and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, the leaders of the effort by tea party Republicans in Congress to stop the Affordable Care Act — commonly known as Obamacare — by refusing to pass a budget bill that included funding for it.
The impasse shut down the federal government for more than two weeks and was settled midmonth, on the eve of what would have been the first default on repaying the nation's debt.
"I have concerns about the strategy they went forward with," the governor said, noting that others in the GOP share those concerns. "Speaking as a Republican now, I think we need to learn from what happened."
Herbert expressed frustration with the shutdown that furloughed government employees, halted programs and closed the state's national parks until Utah came up with money to reopen them.
"I just say to you that the shutdown, there were no winners," the governor said. "The attempt to shutdown the federal government, I don't think is a good idea. And I'm disappointed we got to that point."
Just as Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, did earlier this week in an interview with the Deseret News and KSL, Herbert declined to say he would endorse Lee should the state's junior senator run for re-election in 2016.
"I haven't been asked for his endorsement," the governor said. "And who knows what's going to happen? It's a long time to re-election in 2016, so we'll have to wait and see how that plays out and make a decision at the appropriate time."
While Hatch said Lee and other Republicans who joined him need to be "rehabilitated" to prove they are worthy to voters, Herbert said that's a decision Lee needs to make.
"I'm not going to tell him what to do as senator," the governor said of Lee. "But based on polling and what we see nationally, the Republican Party took a hit at least in the short term. But let's not forget there's a long term."
Lee said he would continue to combat Obamacare in a speech on the Senate floor the day of the vote to end the shutdown and avoid default. He was not available Thursday to talk about what he intends to do next.
"Lee tends to keep his legislative strategy close to the vest rather than talking about it publicly," his communications director, Brian Phillips, said in a statement. "It is obviously unwise to tell the Democrats what the plan is before we execute it."
Hindsight, Herbert said, will determine if Lee is right. But the governor said with Democrats, including President Barack Obama, now acknowledging problems with the implementation of the new health care law, there may be room for compromise.
"That's been the impetus, the catalyst for Sen. Lee and others to, in fact, be so harsh in their approach in Washington, D.C.," the governor said.
Also Thursday, Herbert said he has called for a new look at security at the state Capitol after a man drove his truck up the steps of the building Tuesday. The man was taken into custody moments later on the other side of the building.
"I am concerned about it as somebody in a government position that tends to be a target on occasion," he said.
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