Benjamin Eric Sasse ( /ˈsæs/ SASS; born February 22, 1972) is an American politician and former academic administrator serving as the junior United States senator for Nebraska since 2015. He is a member of the Republican Party.
Sasse was born on February 22, 1972, in Plainview, Nebraska, the son of Gary Lynn Sasse, a high school teacher and football coach, and Linda Sasse. He graduated from Fremont Senior High School in 1990 and was valedictorian of his class.
Sasse graduated from Harvard College in 1994 with a bachelor's degree in government. He also studied at the University of Oxford during the fall of 1992 on a junior year abroad program. In 1998, Sasse earned a Master of Arts in liberal studies from the Graduate Institute at St. John's College. He earned a Master of Arts, Master of Philosophy, and in 2004 a PhD in history from Yale University. His dissertation was directed by Jon Butler and Harry Stout.
From September 1994 to November 1995, Sasse worked as an associate consultant at the management consulting firm Boston Consulting Group. For the next year, he served as consultant/executive director for Christians United For Reformation (CURE). During his tenure, CURE merged with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (ACE), and Sasse became executive director of ACE in Anaheim, California.
In 2000, The Mustard Seed Foundation selected Sasse as a Harvey Fellow. Sasse's doctoral dissertation, "The Anti-Madalyn Majority: Secular Left, Religious Right, and the Rise of Reagan's America", won the Theron Rockwell Field and George Washington Egleston Prizes.
From January 2004 to January 2005, Sasse served as chief of staff for the Office of Legal Policy and as a part-time assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin, commuting to Austin to teach. Sasse left the Department of Justice to serve as chief of staff to Representative Jeff Fortenberry from January to July 2005.
Sasse then advised the United States Department of Homeland Security on national security issues from July to September 2005 as a consultant. He moved to Austin, Texas, to resume his professorship full-time from September 2005 to December 2006.
From December 2006 to December 2007, Sasse served as counselor to the secretary at the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in Washington, D.C., advising the secretary on a broad spectrum of health policy issues, from healthcare access to food safety and security.
In October 2013, Sasse announced his candidacy for the Senate seat held by Republican Mike Johanns, who was not seeking reelection. As of October 2013, his fundraising total of nearly $815,000 from individual donors in his first quarter broke Nebraska's previous record of $526,000 from individual donors, set in 2007 by Johanns while he was U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
In July 2007, President George W. Bush nominated Sasse to the post of assistant secretary for planning and evaluation in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Senate confirmed him in December 2007 and he served until the end of the Bush administration, in January 2009. While at HHS, Sasse took an unpaid leave from the University of Texas.
During 2009, Sasse advised private equity clients and health care investors and taught at the University of Texas. In October 2009, he officially joined the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs Center for Politics and Governance as a fellow, before being appointed president of Midland University. While at Texas, he was critical of Obama-era proposals to expand public health care programs. He criticized public-option proposals as a step toward single-payer health insurance and health-care rationing. He supported a plan to lower the cost of Medicare by raising the eligibility age and cutting benefits. He also coauthored a paper proposing limits to Medicaid reimbursements for hospital care for the uninsured.
Sasse was announced as the 15th president of Midland Lutheran College (now Midland University) in October 2009. At 37, he was one of the youngest chief executives in American higher education when he took over leadership of the 128-year-old institution in spring 2010. Sasse's grandfather, Elmer Sasse, worked for Midland for 33 years, mainly as vice president of finance. The school was experiencing financial and academic difficulties; Sasse has been credited with "turn[ing] it around", rebranding "Midland Lutheran College" as Midland University, instituting new policies (including spot quizzes and class attendance), and "prodigious fundraising".
Born in Plainview, Nebraska, Sasse holds a bachelor's degree in government from Harvard University, a Master of Arts in liberal studies from St. John's College and master's and doctoral degrees in American history from Yale University. He has taught at the University of Texas and has served as an assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In 2010, Sasse was named the 15th president of Midland University in Fremont, Nebraska.
Sasse was installed as president on December 10, 2010. When he was appointed, enrollment was at a historic low and the college was "on the verge of bankruptcy". During his tenure as president, enrollment grew from 590 to 1,300 students. When nearby Dana College was forced to close, Sasse hired much of its faculty and enabled most of its students to transfer to Midland.
When Sasse announced his intention to run for U.S. Senate, he offered to resign his post at Midland. Instead, the board asked him to stay under a partial leave of absence; in October 2013, his employment contract was amended to reduce his pay. Sasse stepped down as president of Midland on December 31, 2014.
In 2014, Sasse ran for a vacant seat in the U.S. Senate. He defeated Democratic nominee David Domina, 65% to 31%. In 2020, Sasse was reelected to a second term. On February 13, 2021, Sasse was one of seven Republican senators to vote to convict Donald Trump of incitement of insurrection in his second impeachment trial.
On May 13, 2014, Sasse won 92 of 93 counties and secured the Republican nomination with 109,829 votes, or 49.4% of all votes cast; banker Sid Dinsdale came in second, with 49,829 votes (22.4%), followed by Osborn, with 46,850 votes (21.1%).
On November 4, 2014, Sasse won the general election, defeating Democratic nominee David Domina with 64.4% of the vote to Domina's 31.5%.
Sasse was sworn in as a member of the U.S. Senate on January 6, 2015.
In 2016, Sasse was the only senator from either party to vote against the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which was intended to address abuse of heroin and opioid drugs by providing funds to the states for treatment and prevention programs and by making the anti-overdose drug naloxone more widely available to first responders and law enforcement agencies. Sasse said he was "distressed by opioid abuse" but questioned whether drug treatment should be addressed at the federal level.
In announcing his Senate candidacy, Sasse expressed strong opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), calling himself "the anti-Obamacare candidate" and declaring that "If it lives, America as we know it will die." In the Senate, Sasse continued to support repeal of the ACA. In 2017, with Republicans unable to develop a repeal-and-replace plan that could secure a majority in the Senate, Sasse proposed an immediate repeal with a one-year delay in implementation, and called on the Senate to give up its August recess to allow it to work on a replacement measure.
In September 2017, Sasse said he thought about leaving the GOP "every morning" and said he thought of himself as "an independent conservative who caucuses with the Republicans". Sasse has called Trump a "megalomaniac strongman", has "called the president's tariffs on steel and aluminum imports 'dumb'", and "has described Trump's escalating trade war with China [as] 'nuts'".
In March 2018, Sasse criticized Trump for congratulating Vladimir Putin on his election victory, saying, "The president of the United States was wrong to congratulate him, and the White House press secretary was wrong to duck a simple question about whether or not Putin's reelection was free and fair. It was not. The American people know that, the Russian people know that, and the world knows that. The White House refused to speak directly and clearly about this matter; we were weakened as a nation, and a tyrant was strengthened."
In July 2018, Politico reported that Sasse had "quietly launched a new political non-profit group, fueling speculation that he might launch a Hail Mary bid for president rather than seek another term in the Senate". But Politico also reported that Sasse and Trump were talking multiple times each month.
Huawei's CFO Meng Wanzhou, daughter of the company's founder Ren Zhengfei, was arrested in Canada on December 1, 2018, at the request of U.S. authorities. Sasse said that China is undermining U.S. national security interests, often "using private sector entities", and "Americans are grateful that our Canadian partners have arrested the chief financial officer."
Sasse voted against the bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation, FIRST STEP Act, which passed by unanimous consent. The bill passed 87–12 on December 18, 2018.
In 2019, Sasse introduced the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, calling for unanimous support in the Senate to protect babies born after failed abortion attempts.
In January 2019, Sasse was one of 11 Republican senators to vote to advance legislation intended to block Trump's intent to lift sanctions against three Russian companies.
In February 2019, Sasse was one of 16 senators to vote against legislation preventing a partial government shutdown and containing $1.375 billion for barriers along the U.S.–Mexico border that included 55 miles of fencing.
In March 2019, Sasse was one of 12 senators to cosponsor a resolution that would impose a constitutional amendment limiting the Supreme Court to nine justices. The resolution was introduced after multiple Democratic presidential candidates expressed openness to increasing the number of seats on the Supreme Court.
In 2020, Sasse defeated Democrats Chris Janicek, who won the Democratic primary, and Preston Love Jr., who had the support of the state Democratic party. Sasse received 62.7% of the vote.
In 2020, Sasse delivered a commencement speech to his high school alma mater in which he attacked China over the COVID-19 pandemic. The Omaha World-Herald reported that the remarks drew criticism from Sasse's Democratic opponent and a board member of the high school who endorsed Sasse's Democratic opponent; an official statement from the public school board disavowed responsibility for Sasse's comments. A spokesperson for Sasse defended the remarks, reiterating Sasse's criticisms and saying that students were mature enough to hear the truth.
In August 2020, Sasse again came into conflict with Trump when Sasse referred to Trump's executive order authorizing stimulus after Congress failed to agree on a second COVID-19 relief package as "unconstitutional slop". Trump responded by calling Sasse a RINO (Republican In Name Only) and saying that Sasse had "gone rogue".
In an October 2020 campaign town hall event, Sasse turned critical of Trump: "He mocks evangelicals behind closed doors. His family has treated the presidency like a business opportunity. He's flirted with white supremacists." He added, "The United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership" and criticized Trump for "the way he treats women". Sasse expressed concern that Trump's "stupid political obsessions" and "rage tweeting" alienate voters.
In December 2020, when Trump pardoned many people connected to himself, Sasse said, "This is rotten to the core."
Sasse acknowledged Joe Biden's win in the 2020 presidential election and condemned Trump's efforts to overturn the election results. He was the first Republican to criticize Senator Josh Hawley's plan to challenge the results during Congress's count of the electoral votes on January 6, 2021, saying such an action would "disenfranchise millions of Americans" and that it would "point a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government".
Sasse was participating in the January 6, 2021, certification of the 2021 United States Electoral College vote count when Donald Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. In response, Sasse held Trump responsible for the storming of the Capitol, asserting that Trump "delighted" in the attack and was a "broken man". Sasse added that he would consider articles of impeachment if presented with them in the Senate, contending that Trump had "disregarded his oath of office". Sasse voted to certify Arizona's and Pennsylvania's electoral votes in the 2020 presidential election.
In February 2021, the Lincoln County (Nebraska) Republican Party censured Sasse for his comments about Trump's impeachment. The county chair lamented that state law did not allow Sasse to be recalled. When the Nebraska Republican Party considered censuring Sasse for his lack of support for Trump, Sasse responded, "Politics isn't about the weird worship of one dude."
After the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump, Sasse joined six other Republican senators in voting to convict Trump on February 13, 2021.
Sasse was the first Republican senator to publicly support the 2021 efforts to remove Donald Trump from office, saying that he was willing to consider articles of impeachment because Trump had violated his oath of office. Along with six other Republican senators, he voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial. On May 27, 2021, along with five other Republicans and all present Democrats, he voted to establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol. The vote failed for lack of 60 required "yes" votes.
Sasse does not support same-sex marriage. After the United States Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for a state to ban same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, Sasse said, "Today's ruling is a disappointment to Nebraskans who understand that marriage brings a wife and husband together so their children can have a mom and dad. The Supreme Court once again overstepped its Constitutional role by acting as a super-legislature and imposing its own definition of marriage on the American people rather than allowing voters to decide in the states." In November 2022, he abstained from voting on the Respect for Marriage Act which codified same-sex marriage rights into federal law.
In early 2016, during both major parties' presidential primary election seasons, Sasse announced that he would not support Trump should Trump become the party's nominee; he was the first sitting senator to make such an announcement. Sasse questioned Trump's commitment to the U.S. Constitution, in particular accusing him of attacking the First Amendment; stated that Trump had refused to condemn the Ku Klux Klan; and suggested that Trump "thinks he's running for King". He stated that if Trump won the party's nomination, he would vote neither for him nor for Hillary Clinton, but would probably "look for some third candidate—a conservative option, a Constitutionalist". Sasse suggested that he might leave the Republican Party, saying, "if the Republican Party becomes the party of David Duke, Donald Trump, I'm out".
Sasse is due to resign from the Senate in January 2023 to succeed Kent Fuchs as the president of the University of Florida.
As of November 1, 2022 , Sasse was under consideration for president of the University of Florida. On October 6 a search committee announced Sasse was the only finalist. The Board of Trustees confirmed him on November 1 and his nomination advanced to the state university Board of Governors. On November 10, the Board of Governors approved Sasse's appointment. He will resign from the Senate in January and assume the presidency of the University of Florida on February 6, 2023. Sasse will join several other Republicans who voted to impeach Trump and will leave Congress next year. Among others, Liz Cheney, Anthony Gonzalez, Jaime Herrera Beutler, John Katko, and Adam Kinzinger all lost or did not seek reelection following their votes to impeach Trump. Some students protested Sasse's opposition to same-sex marriage. The faculty senate passed a no-confidence resolution criticizing the election process and the faculty union passed a resolution expressing concern.