Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, is set to be at the helm of the Swamp if voted to become UF’s next president. But for now, he’s still sitting atop Capitol Hill.
Sasse, a Republican senator and current sole finalist for UF’s presidency, has spent the past seven years sponsoring and passing legislation in the U.S. Senate. He’s backed laws that have limited abortion access and tightened immigration policy, and he’s proposed legislation to increase nationwide COVID-19 testing and limit the jurisdiction of unelected federal agencies to write policy, among other initiatives.
“One of the things that's appealing about this, frankly, is the opportunity to step back from politics a bit,” Sasse said at a forum addressing students Oct. 10. “I think we're all more complex and interesting people than what positions you happen to hold.”
Sasse was first elected to the Senate in 2014, when he defeated Democratic nominee Chris Janicek, Democratic write-in Preston Love, Jr. and libertarian nominee Gene Siadek with almost 65% of the vote. He was reelected in 2020 with nearly 63%.
Sasse’s primary donors work in securities and investment, real estate and law, according to data from Open Secrets.
Prior to his congressional career, Sasse served as president of Midland University in Fremont, Nebraska, a school with around 1,600 students, according to its website.
In Congress, Sasse sits on the intelligence, judiciary, budget and finance committees. He has a background in health care through his work as the assistant secretary of planning and evaluation in the assistant secretary of planning and evaluation in former President George W. Bush’s Department of Health and Human Services.
Sasse’s congressional tenure will likely end in the coming weeks, as he’s expected to resign ahead of his presumptive appointment as UF’s president. He wasn’t the most active senators, ranking 99th and 97th among his colleagues in the 117th Congress in sponsored and cosponsored bills, according to a report from Open Secrets.
Sasse’s ranking of 97th in co-sponsored bills was his highest in his tenure across four iterations of Congress. He never surpassed 98th in either sponsored or co-sponsored bills aside from this term in that time.
He wasn’t as outspoken as some of his Republican colleagues, but the senator crossed party lines at notable moments despite largely aligning with the Republican vote. Most prominently, Sasse was one of only seven Republicans who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump.
He participated in several controversial votes amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, Sasse voted against the American Rescue Plan Act, which distributed $1.9 trillion in aid to federal agencies like the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services to disburse among the states.
Florida received $10 billion from the act — a portion of which Gov. Ron DeSantis vowed to use toward migrant relocations like the initiative to send Venezuelan immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard last month.
Sasse also voted to bolster homeland security to deport those who immigrated to the U.S. illegally at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and he voted to expand resources in deporting those who immigrated illegally and committed a crime.
He’s routinely voted against abortion legislation, even proposing legislation that compels health care providers to exercise full medical attention to “born-alive abortion survivors.” Notably, he voted no on the Women’s Health Protection Act, which attempted to secure the right to seek out an abortion before it failed in the Senate.
The presumptive president also voted against an attempt to block Trump’s emergency declaration to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, and though he eventually voted to impeach Trump, Sasse voted against measures to convict him of abuse of office and contempt of Congress in 2019.
These votes were highly publicized, but Sasse has come under the most fire for comments and votes against the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups. He called U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage “disappointing” and voted for legislation that prohibited the disbursement of federal funding to schools that allowed transgender girls to compete in women’s sports.
In a student forum Oct. 10, Sasse said he would affirm everyone in the UF community when asked whether he would protect LGBTQ students. He didn’t mention his previous comments or votes.
The rhetoric doesn’t match the record, said Katelynn Joyner, a 22-year-old UF political communications graduate student. She fears his past attitudes regarding abortion access and the LGBTQ community will align with how he acts as president, she said.
“When you’re going to be that bigoted and alienating of half of your student population, that’s going to play in,” Joyner said.
If officially appointed, Sasse will be UF’s first politician-turned-president. With a past so openly partisan, Joyner feels Sasse’s appointment compromises the integrity of the office, she said.
“I don’t think that any higher educational leadership position should be politicized,” she said. “The second you announce that someone is a member of a certain political party, people are going to think of you differently.”
Matthew Turner, a 21-year-old UF economics and music senior, said he was surprised by Sasse’s unanimous appointment as sole finalist — especially in a college environment that proves to be more liberal.
Sasse’s political background worries some students, but others like Turner, president of UF College Republicans, are willing to give the senator a shot. He’ll support Sasse if he proves to be as nonpartisan in this role as he promises, he said.
“It seems like he has qualifications to be a good president,” Turner said. “If he acts that way, then I’ll be in favor.”
Heather Bushman is a fourth-year journalism and political science student and the enterprise elections reporter. She previously wrote and edited for the Avenue desk and reported for WUFT News. You can usually find her writing, listening to music or writing about listening to music. Ask her about synesthesia or her album tier list sometime.