1 of 7
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, walks with state Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, between meetings with House Republicans and House Democrats at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019.

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mitt Romney's first report to the Utah Legislature since taking office earned applause from Republican and Democratic caucuses Thursday — except from Senate Democrats.

The six-member caucus never heard from Romney or Reps. Chris Stewart and John Curtis, the other Republican members of Utah's congressional delegation who came to Capitol Hill to deliver their annual update to lawmakers.

"We have an open caucus. They can come in anytime they want," Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, said. "They chose not to, obviously. I'm sorry about that."

She said the Senate minority staff was not told the delegation members were coming. On Tuesday, the caucus warmly welcomed the only Democrat representing Utah in Congress, Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, as he made his rounds.

Romney or Curtis weren't asked to come to the caucus, according to their staffs. Stewart was on a "strict schedule," his spokeswoman Madison Shupe said, and is "working on arranging a time for him to come and address them in the near future."

In past years, Utah's two senators and four U.S. House members all spoke annually from the state House and Senate floors to deliver the required update, taking questions from lawmakers.

That changed when the House decided the reports should be made instead during midday party caucus meetings, apparently to preserve more time to debate bills. This year, the Senate gave delegation members the option to come to caucuses.

Sen. Mitt Romney walks with Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, between meetings with the House Republicans and House Democrats at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019.

In the House GOP caucus, Romney told Utah lawmakers he was surprised at the "great deal of friendship and respect that comes across the aisle" in Washington, D.C., but also the "lack of communication between parties."

Utah's junior senator spoke of the positioning and posturing that goes on in Congress.

"The only way something is going to get passed in Washington is if both sides consider it a victory," he said.

He said he was "all ears," and urged his fellow Republicans to feel free to reach out to him "if there are things that need to be done for our state that you hear about, you care about."

At the House Democratic caucus, Romney reminded Democrats that when he served as governor of Massachusetts, that state's Legislature was dominated by Democrats. He said he learned that nothing happens until the parties work together.

Sen. Mitt Romney meets with House Democrats at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019.

Senate Republicans close their caucuses.

Curtis made House Republicans laugh when he asked them to imagine what it would be like if President Donald Trump were governor.

"Every day you wake up and say, 'What has the governor done today?'" the 3rd District congressman said. ''That's my life, but I love it."

He also spoke of bipartisanship, saying the news media only highlights dysfunction, "not when we're working well together."

During his speech to the House GOP caucus, Stewart compared the Utah Legislature to Congress, where it can take years to advance legislation.

"It's so fun to watch you guys and see how much you get done in 45 days," he said.

The 2nd District congressman also expressed concern about the rise of socialism.

"I'm shocked about we're having conversations about whether the future of our country is socialist," Stewart said. He recently created the congressional anti-socialism caucus.

At an evening town hall meeting in West Jordan, Romney fielded questions from about 50 residents on a wide range of issues ranging from tax cuts and health care to veterans benefits and the president.

"When the Mueller probe is totally finished, do you believe, as I do, that this nation owes an apology to Donald Trump?" asked one man, referring to the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian influence on the 2016 presidential election.

Romney said the probe, which has resulted in indictments or guilty pleas of 34 people and three companies, isn't focused on Trump, and he hopes the final conclusion will be "in all this smoke there was no fire."

But Romney referred to his own presidential campaign to make a point that the Mueller investigation isn't superfluous.

"Do you know how many contacts we had with Russians during my campaign? Zero," Romney said. "If a Russian had contacted me or a member of my campaign we would have reported it immediately to the FBI. We would not have met with them. We would not have sat down and asked, 'What can you give us?' (Trump's campaign) made some of those mistakes and part of that led to the sense that that ought to be looked at."

Two other residents who not supporters of Trump questioned the senator on whether he had changed his attitude toward the president since Romney had called Trump a fraud and a phony during the 2016 campaign.

8 comments on this story

Romney stuck to the answer he's given since he ran for the Senate that he would support the president on policies he agreed with and speak out where he disagreed. The week Romney took office he wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that Trump hadn't "risen to the mantle of his office."

An Associated Press poll released in November found nearly two-thirds of Utah voters said they would like Romney to stand up to Trump (64 percent), compared with fewer who would like to see him support Trump (36 percent). Among Romney voters, half said they would want him to stand up to Trump, and half preferred he support Trump.

Contributing: Emily Ashcraft