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Kelly File

Sen. Mike Lee explains how new Congress will move forward

This is a rush transcript from "The Kelly File," January 6, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

MEGYN KELLY, HOST: My next guest will play a key role in how the Senate moves forward.  Utah Senator Mike Lee is Republican and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He was just named as one of four counselors to the majority leader.

Senator, good to see you tonight. And so, this is a big deal now because you have been a Tea Party-backed senator and somebody who at times has been critical of the so-called establishment Republicans, and now you are sort of aligned with them, counsel to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. What does that say? Why did you accept?

SEN. MIKE LEE, R-UTAH: Well, you know, I was selected by my colleagues in the Senate as the chairman of the Senate Steering Committee, and one of the roles of the Senate Steering Committee is to help develop policy -- conservative policy agenda issues-- to move forward, to take to the American people, to improve and expand the middle class, to help people get out of poverty and to do all of that by harnessing the power of conservative principles.  

KELLY: By are you, for those who say, "Oh, Senator Lee, he's a Tea Partier, he's selling out, he's going with Mitch McConnell," who some, you know, Tea Party affiliated folks don't like. They think he's too establishment.  What do you say? Are you abandoning any sort of your Tea Party ties? Is there a movement away from those ties in general in Congress right now?

LEE: I think this part of an effort by Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority leader who I would like to congratulate on becoming our leader to expand the tenth, to make clear that he wants to unify the party, that he wants to bring people in from all segments within the Senate Republican conference and to push forward a bold new agenda, one that will help expand economic opportunity in America.

KELLY: What do you make of it? Because some folks just the regular mainstream media looked at what happened over in the other body today in the House with John Boehner not getting the support of all Republicans, 25 either chose to vote present or for somebody other than him for House Speaker and they talked about, "Oh, it's a big schism within the Republican Party and, you know, they're fighting on a day where they should be celebrating." And, you know, you read some of the write-ups and this is from Yahoo! and they talk about how that fact really "shows an awkward display of GOP schisms at a time when party leaders really want to show that they won't be forced by Tea Party legislators into unwinnable and unpopular showdowns with President Obama." Your take on that?

LEE: Well, first of all, I think those who want that to be true, that is, those who want to say that the GOP is in disarray are those most likely to say that. It doesn't make it true. I mean, look, Megyn, at the beginning of any Congress, you're going to have a handful of procedural votes and you're going to have some elections dealing with leadership positions.

Bbut those votes in the House are now over and we can move forward and I think you'll see some real unity within the Republican Party on both sides of the Capitol, moving forward with a bold new agenda to help create new jobs, to help minimize the role of government, most importantly Megyn, do what the American people sent us here to do. They sent us here to make government more effective, more efficient and more accountable to the people.  

KELLY: Well, how can you do that? How can you do that, when, yes, you now control the Senate and Harry Reid is officially the minority leader now. But you don't control the White House. And already you've got President Obama saying, "I'm going to veto Keystone, I'm going to veto that, too, and I'm actually feeling very emboldened and I'm going to do more executive actions. And you know what I'm feeling? I'm feeling better than ever. I don't really care." So, what can you do without a Republican in the White House?

LEE: Well, first of all, it's important to remember there's a big difference, there's a world of difference between a veto threat and a veto.  This president has had it real easy. His first two years, he had both houses of Congress under his thumb. The last four years he's had one house of Congress under his thumb. He's basically had Harry Reid exercising the vetoes for him. So, he hasn't had to do it.

Actually vetoing something is very very different. And if the president wants to circumvent the will of the American people that they expressed in the November elections and if he wants to veto legislation that would create tens of thousands of jobs and shore up America's energy independence, he's going to have to defend that to the American people. That's going to be a pretty hard thing for him to do.  

KELLY: All right. But the big question a lot of folks are asking is they see the Republicans now take over, you are now in control of Capitol Hill.  Are you going to be bold? Are you going to, as you mentioned, push for these conservative principles for which you stand? Or are you going to hedge because you're worried about 2016 and not alienating anybody in anticipation of the next presidential race?

LEE: Well, I think the best way to approach 2016 is for us to be bold. I think the best way for us to approach the next election cycle is to handle well the trust the American people have handed to us in this cycle. That is, we've got to stand for the things that we said we would stand for. The American people sent us here to restore limited government, the American people sent us here to make government more effective, more efficient and more accountable, and that's what we're going to do.  

KELLY: How about immigration? That's a fight that is yet to be had, it's going to rile up. And there's a question about how hard Republicans are going to push back on President Obama's executive action on that?

LEE: Yes. You know, that really relates to how hard we are going to work to make sure that the law is enforced, to make sure that the law is followed and to make sure that the Constitution isn't trampled in the process.  

KELLY: How about defunding his executive action?

LEE: Yes. I think we need a spending restriction. I think we need to restrict the president's ability to spend a single dime on an unlawful, unconstitutional executive order dealing with executive amnesty. Look, regardless of how you feel about amnesty -- and there are people all over the map on this issue who agree that ours is not a government of one. We don't have a king, we don't have a president who can change the law on his own and go around Congress, contrary to the statute and without authority from the Constitution.  

KELLY: Now, President Obama today spoke of wanting to cooperate with Republicans and seeing there as being enormous areas of potential agreement between the two parties. Do you think that was just lip service or do you think he means it and do you agree?

LEE: Well, to the extent that he means that we're going to do things that will open up more jobs, to the extent he means that we're going to follow the law, to the extent that he means that he's going to respect the Constitution, yes, I'm all about that. And I'd like to believe that the president of the United States who himself has sworn an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution means those things.

We'll see when he means in the coming weeks. I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.  But you know, in the past he's shown us that he's willing to trample it. I hope he'll discontinue. I hope he will choose a different, a better path because the American people deserve better and they are demanding more.  

KELLY: You know, the big headlines in most of the mainstream media today focused on John Boehner not getting these 25 votes and so on, and you know, they love to capitalize on any schism they perceive in the GOP. But this is a significant day for the Republican Party and it was a day that, you know, it's been a long time since the Republicans have had control of both chambers on Capitol Hill. What was the mood up there and how significant do you think it was?

LEE: It was a very significant moment. I mean, I had a great feeling as I walked into the Senate chamber today and I saw the desks as they had changed positions. I saw that the majority leader was different than the majority leader was just a few weeks ago. This was a moment of great optimism. And I watched with great excitement as some of my new colleagues including Joni Ernst from Iowa and Ben Sasse from Nebraska came into the chamber. I think there's a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of pent-up desire to actually legislate in a way that we haven't, been able to legislate in the last few years, because of the kind of opposition we've had, because of the kind of obstruction we've had from the Democratic leadership which has refused to allow us to cast votes, which is what we're here to do.  

KELLY: Uh-uh. And ultimately they were the victims of the voters going to the ballot box and casting their votes. Senator Lee, good to see you.  

LEE: Thank you very much.

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