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Why Mike Lee Won’t Do Hallway Interviews

Lee said he was encouraged by the emerging reconciliation measure. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Lee said he was encouraged by the emerging reconciliation measure. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Mike Lee is no longer taking hallway interviews. While any senator might decline to answer a particular question (sometimes it’s the wrong question, the wrong reporter or the wrong time), the Utah Republican, around September, joined a small group of senators who will not take questions from reporters in between points A and B, where most members of the press buttonhole lawmakers on any topic that comes to mind.  

Lee told CQ Roll Call — as part of a wide-ranging interview in his Senate office Thursday — that most questions thrown at him are generally not of the “yes” or “no” variety, and he said he felt he was often giving them short shrift.  

“I’m someone who has a hard time turning down a conversation,” Lee said. “And an even harder time starting a conversation and ending it abruptly — ending it before it’s over.”  

Lee said there was no moment or “precipitating event” that made him join the unaffiliated band of the hallway-mum that includes Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii; David Vitter, R-La.; and Al Franken, D-Minn. While each might have their own explanation for their public-throughway omertà, Lee said hallway interviews usually led to one or two outcomes: Tardiness to his next appointment or an incomplete answer.  

“For a long time, I struggled to answer the question, realizing that every time I tried to do that, I was going to make myself late,” Lee said. “Because anytime I’m walking to or from the floor, I’m almost always in a hurry trying to make it to my next meeting.”  

Some senators have an aide walk with them who will head off the reporter without the senator ever acknowledging them. But Lee said he is “always quite friendly” to the reporter, redirecting them to his office to arrange an interview.  

“For me, it’s a way to make sure that when I answer a question, I have an adequate opportunity to answer the whole question so that I don’t answer it only partially,” Lee said. “You can do a lot of damage if you try to answer a question part way.”

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