Sen. Mike Lee had said he supported a stand-alone measure to revive Trade Promotion Authority, but when the vote was called, the Republican was still in Utah.
The speculation was that Lee avoided a floor vote after Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, announced in an opinion piece that he would reverse course and oppose the bill, demanding a commitment to shut down the Export-Import Bank and making other requests for amendments. But, to hear Lee's office tell it, the decision to miss the vote was due to a family commitment — seeing his sons back in Utah, who had just recently returned from Mormon missions.
A Politico report said the senator's absence surprised Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., but Lee's Communications Director Conn Carroll said his boss had been clear with leadership.
Carroll said Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, called Lee twice on the Monday ahead of the Tuesday vote about his attendance, knowing that the vote to break a potential filibuster on the TPA measure could be tight. The vote, as it turned out, was close as 60 senators voted in favor of limiting debate, with three absences (there was another yes available, as the vote would've been held open for GOP Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee if needed).
But still, Carroll told CQ Roll Call that Lee had been clear with Cornyn in the two phone calls, talks that a Cornyn aide would not weigh in on, declining to discuss private conversations between members.
"Both times, Lee told Cornyn directly he was not coming," Carroll said.
There may be an explanation for the confusion between Lee and the GOP leadership that seemed to follow the calls between those two senators, however.
"We did have a flight reserved for the senator to come back in case he did change his mind and come back, which is standard Senate practice," Carroll said. "Our scheduler did tell the Senate floor staff that that flight was delayed."
Carroll suggested the aides to McConnell who run the cloakroom and floor operations may have misconstrued the notice from Lee's office about the flight delay as an indication that the senator actually intended to get in the air and head back to the Capitol.
"We never said that. All we said is that the flight that we reserved for the senator was delayed," Carroll said. "We have emails. At no time did we ever tell them that he was coming."
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