SALT LAKE CITY — Maybe the caller on the line was trying to soften up Rep. Chris Stewart by talking about the Utah congressman's Air Force exploits before oddly lowering the boom on him during a telephonic town hall Tuesday night.
Identified only as Terry, the woman said she had read Stewart's bio, including his record-breaking flights as an Air Force pilot, and that she shared an affinity for the service.
"Reading all of this stuff that you've done, it leads me to believe one of two things either you are an incredible adrenaline junkie or you're a brave man," she said.
"So, my question to you is why didn't you stand up for Mitt Romney? Why did you allow them to verbally abuse him, make personal attacks when he was expressing his opinion and what he thoroughly, thoroughly he believed in? He was standing up for what he thought was right. He was actually standing up for what I thought was right, and yet you, who I would like to think was a brave man, did not stand up for Mitt Romney who is a fellow Utahn. ... I would like you to explain to me why you didn't stand up for him."
The caller didn't say for what issue Stewart was supposed to have Romney's back, but the senator's vote to convict former President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial was an obvious diversion from Utah's all-Republican congressional delegation.
Stewart didn't flinch at the question, even welcoming people on the call who disagree with him on anything to chime in.
"I can tell you that Mitt Romney doesn't need me to stand up for him, and Mitt Romney has never asked me to stand up for him nor does he expect me to stand up," the five-term congressman said.
Stewart said it's not his job to defend Romney or any other elected official in the state.
"I don't expect them to defend me and, honestly, I don't want them to defend me because I think it makes me look weak as far as I'm dependent on them if I do," he said.
All Utah's Republican congressmen voted against impeaching Trump both times. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, voted to acquit Trump in both trials, while Romney twice voted to convict him. Trump supporters accosted Romney at the Salt Lake airport because of his stance.
Stewart and Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, were the only two to vote against certifying a state's electoral votes on Jan. 6 after hundreds of Trump supporters violently invaded the U.S. Capitol.
"There were plenty of people who attacked me for my vote on the impeachment even though it was different than Sen. Romney's, but I didn't expect Mitt to come to my defense. I didn't expect him to say what a great guy Chris is," Stewart told the caller.
While impeachment is one instance where the state's congressional delegation went their separate ways, they generally agree on a majority of issues, especially when it comes to things like public lands in Utah.
I can tell you that Mitt Romney doesn't need me to stand up for him, and Mitt Romney has never asked me to stand up for him nor does he expect me to stand up.
–Rep. Chris Stewart
During the hourlong town hall, Stewart blasted Democrats, who he said are making "zero effort" to include Republicans on major legislation, including the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package and the voting rights reform bill. He called it some of the most troubling and worst legislation to come out of Washington in generations.
HR1, also known as the For the People Act, attempts to federalize elections, which the Constitution clearly says is the responsibility of states, Stewart said. The measure provides candidates public money for campaigns and eliminates voter ID requirements when a person can't even buy cigarettes or alcohol or board a plane without identification, he said.
"My fear is that this is written to really cement Democratic power in Washington, D.C., to make it a one-party nation," Stewart said.
As bad as the bill is, the massive coronavirus aid plan is "equally offensive," he said. Only 9% of the money goes to COVID-19 relief and the remainder has nothing do with health or the economy, Stewart said.
In addition, he said it adds another $1.9 trillion to the national debt, and President Joe Biden's $3 trillion infrastructure plan puts the country on track to add as much as $6 trillion to the deficit this year.
"We've said for a long time when it comes to debt, 'Hey, we're going to our children and grandchildren to pay this off', and I'm telling you, dude, we're not going to make it that long," he said.
Stewart said it will lead to an "economic catastrophe" for which everyone will pay the price.
"I honestly can't understand what my Democratic friends are thinking when they actually propose that kind of spending year after year now, and it worries the life out of me for what the American dream can turn into," he said.
Stewart also said he was glad to be in Utah this week because it's discouraging to be in Washington right now with high fences with razor wire and National Guard members with guns.
"It looks a little bit like Baghdad behind the green zone," he said. "It's just not a welcome or embracing city right now."