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Departing Sen. Sasse Knows Trump Criticism Shapes His Legacy

'Just at a human level, I’m sad for him to be that needy and desperate. But at a policy level, I always loved that he kept his word on the judges...'

(Headline USA) Nebraska’s out-going U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse knows he may be remembered more for his criticisms of former President Donald Trump than for the policies he supported during his eight years in office.

Sasse talked about his political legacy with the Omaha World-Herald as he prepared to leave the Senate Sunday to become president of the University of Florida.

Sasse was a prominent Trump critic who joined with a handful of other Republicans to vote to convict the former president at his impeachment trial after the 2021 Capitol uprising. However, it failed to secure the two-thirds majority that would have been necessary to bar Trump from holding any future public office, resulting in the former president’s second acquittal in as many years.

Sasse’s attack on the GOP’s defacto leader led to him being sharply criticized by his own political party in Nebraska, even though Sasse voted with Trump 85% of the time and helped get his three U.S. Supreme Court nominees confirmed.

Sasse acknowledged that his complicated relationship with Trump will shape his legacy.

“I’m just sad for him as a human because obviously there’s a lot of complicated stuff going on in that soul,” Sasse said to the newspaper. “Just at a human level, I’m sad for him to be that needy and desperate. But at a policy level, I always loved that he kept his word on the judges. … And so we got to work closely on judges.”

Sasse said he is especially proud of his work with the Senate Intelligence committee that included setting up a commission on cybersecurity. He said 120 of that group’s 190 recommendations have been passed into law.

The University of Florida job will allow Sasse—who studied American history at Harvard, Yale and Oxford—to return to academia at a much bigger institution. Before he was elected to the Senate, Sasse led the small, private Midland University in his hometown of Fremont, Nebraska.

Sasse said he couldn’t resist the chance to lead one of the nation’s largest public universities even after rejecting overtures from other universities in recent years.

“South Florida is like a giant blank canvas,” Sasse said. “And so I’m very excited about a lot of the new stuff that we’re going to build.”

Newly elected Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen will name Sasse’s replacement, and the leading candidate for the job is former Gov. Pete Ricketts whom Pillen replaced this month after term limits kept the Republican from running again.

Both Pillen and Ricketts spoke out against Trump during the 2022 campaign, with the former president throwing his support to failed primary candidate Charles Herbster.

While Trump already has declared his candidacy for 2024, he does so with his political capital somewhat diminished from its heyday after lawsuits, election losses and a few unforced errors have led pro-MAGA conservatives to seek a candidate who embraced Trump’s policies without the baggage.

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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