Benjamin Eric Sasse ( /ˈsæs/ SASS; born February 22, 1972) is an American politician serving as the junior United States Senator for Nebraska since 2015. He is a member of the Republican Party.

Born in Plainview, Nebraska, Sasse holds a bachelor’s degree in government from Harvard University, Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from St. John’s College and master’s and doctorate degrees in American history from Yale University. He taught at the University of Texas and served as an assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In 2010, he was named the 15th president of Midland University in Fremont, Nebraska. In 2014, he ran for a vacant seat in the U.S. Senate, defeating Democratic nominee David Domina by 65% to 31%. In 2020, Sasse was re-elected for a second term.

Early life

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, Fremont, Nebraska, in 1990 and was valedictorian of his class.

Sasse graduated from Harvard University 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 also earned a Master of Arts, Master of Philosophy, and Doctor of Philosophy in history from Yale University. Sasse was selected as a Harvey Fellow by the Mustard Seed Foundation in 2000. 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.

Early career

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.

From January 2004 to January 2005, Sasse served as chief of staff for the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Legal Policy in Washington, D.C. 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 (R-Nebr.) from January 2005 to July 2005.

Sasse then advised the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in Washington, D.C., 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 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in Washington, D.C., where he advised the secretary on a broad spectrum of health policy issues, from healthcare access to food safety and security.[citation needed]

In July 2007, Sasse was nominated by President George W. Bush to the post of assistant secretary for planning and evaluation in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. His appointment was confirmed by the Senate in December 2007 and he served until the end of the Bush administration, in January 2009. During his tenure 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 University of Texas LBJ 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 towards single-payer health care and, ultimately, health care rationing. He supported a plan for lowering 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.

Midland University

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”.

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 managed to hire much of the faculty and enable most of the 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 at Midland 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.

U.S. Senate

2014 election

Ben Sasse

Sasse speaking at 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference

In October 2013, Sasse announced his candidacy for the United States Senate seat occupied by Republican Mike Johanns, who was not running for 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 the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

Upon announcing his candidacy, Sasse expressed strong opposition to the Affordable Care Act. His primary opponent, Shane Osborn, questioned the depth of Sasse’s opposition to the ACA, publicizing articles and speeches Sasse delivered during and after the act’s passage through Congress; according to the Omaha World-Herald, “Osborn’s campaign appears intent on questioning whether Sasse is a true conservative.” The Osborn campaign cited, among other pieces, a 2009 Bloomberg Businessweek column titled “Health-Care Reform: The Rush to Pass a Bad Bill”, stating that “There’s an emerging consensus that this [an individual mandate] might be a good idea”, and a 2010 speech in which Sasse said Republicans would probably lack the votes to repeal the ACA, stating that “a middle-class entitlement has never been repealed”, and opining that Republicans had failed to offer a viable alternative, preferring to stage “symbolic repeal votes”. Sasse’s response to the Osborn campaign’s assertions was that in his articles and speeches, he was describing the political landscape rather than giving his own opinions on the merits of the ACA’s provisions; to a World-Herald reporter, he declared, “I have never changed my position on thinking Obamacare is a bad idea”.

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 for the U.S. Senate, defeating Democratic nominee David Domina with 64.4% of the vote to Domina’s 31.5%.

2020 election

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.

Tenure

Sen. Sasse speaking at 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference.

Neb. Senator Ben Sasse addresses guests at an election night victory party for Governor Pete Ricketts.

114th Congress (2015–2017)

Sasse assumed office as a United States senator on January 3, 2015. He was officially sworn in when the 114th Congress convened on January 6, 2015.

116th Congress (2019–2021)

In February 2019, Sasse was one of sixteen 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 twelve senators to cosponsor a resolution that would impose a constitutional amendment limiting the Supreme Court to nine justices. The resolution was introduced following multiple Democratic presidential candidates expressing openness to the idea of expanding the seats on the Supreme Court.

117th Congress (2021–present)

Sasse was participating in the January 6, 2021, certification of the 2021 United States Electoral College vote count when Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. In response, he blamed Donald Trump. He said that Trump “delighted” in the attack on the Capitol and that Trump is a broken man. Sasse said that he would consider potential articles of impeachment if presented with them in the Senate, citing that President Trump had “disregarded his oath of office.”.

Sasse joined six other Republican Senators in voting to convict Trump on February 13, 2021.

Committees

Sasse has been appointed to serve on the following committees in the 116th Congress:

  • Committee on Finance
  • Select Committee on Intelligence
  • Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs
    • Subcommittee on Economic Policy
    • Subcommittee on National Security and International Trade and Finance, chairman
    • Subcommittee on Securities, Insurance, and Investment
  • Committee on the Judiciary

Political positions

Abortion

Sasse’s campaign website indicates that he is anti-abortion, stating “even one abortion is too many”. In 2019, he introduced the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act”, calling for unanimous support among the Senate for protecting babies born after failed abortion attempts.

China

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.”

In 2020, Sasse delivered the 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 subsequently 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.

Criminal justice

He 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.

President Donald Trump

Sasse was a critic of former president Donald Trump. In 2021, when the Nebraska Republican party considered censuring Sasse for this lack of support, Sasse responded “Politics isn’t about the weird worship of one dude.”

In early 2016, during both major parties’ presidential primary election seasons, Sasse announced that he would not support Republican front-runner Donald 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, then he would vote neither for him nor for Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, but would probably “look for some third candidate—a conservative option, a Constitutionalist”. Sasse suggested that he could leave the Republican Party, saying, “if the Republican Party becomes the party of David Duke, Donald Trump, I’m out”.

Trump, asked about Sasse’s third-party suggestion, replied, “That would be the work of a loser.” Several Nebraska Republican politicians, among them state senators Bob Krist and Beau McCoy and U.S. senator Deb Fischer, took exception to Sasse’s statements. Krist described them as “very immature” and declared that Sasse should “quietly and in a statesmanlike manner allow the system to work out and provide the leadership that needs to be provided”; Fischer said that voting for a third-party alternative would essentially guarantee a Clinton victory. (Krist would later switch his registration to the Democratic Party, running as its candidate in the 2018 Nebraska gubernatorial election.)

In September 2017, Sasse said he thought about leaving the GOP “every morning” and said that he thought of himself as “an independent conservative who caucuses with the Republicans”. Sasse has described Trump as 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 win, 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”. However, Politico also reported that Sasse and the President were talking multiple times each month.

In January 2019, Sasse was one of eleven Republican senators to vote to advance legislation intended to block President Trump’s intent to lift sanctions against three Russian companies.

Sasse has been criticized for lambasting Trump but voting in line with Trump’s positions. Dick Polman of WHYY criticized Sasse as “all talk, no action”, stating that Sasse and other Republicans in Congress “continue to abet and excuse Donald Trump’s relentless assaults on democratic norms and the rule of law”. Jennifer Rubin, writing for The Washington Post, wrote that Sasse and Republicans “now face voters increasingly upset about corruption and abuse of power, both of which will not abate so long as spineless Republicans hold the majority in both houses”.

Sasse voted to acquit Trump in his first impeachment trial in the Senate over his request of the Ukrainian President that he start an investigation into political rival Joe Biden. Sasse said, “It’s clear that the president had mixed motives in his decision to temporarily withhold military aid from Ukraine. The line between personal and public was not firmly safeguarded.” He added that removing Trump from office would be bad for the country in the long-term and that “removal is the wrong decision”. During the impeachment trial, Sasse voted to prevent the Senate to call witnesses to testify.

In August 2020, Sasse came into conflict, again, 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 calling Sasse a RINO (Republican In Name Only) and further stating that Sasse had “gone rogue”.

In an October 2020 campaign townhall 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.” Sasse said further “The United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership” and criticized the president 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 commented, “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 Republican Senator Josh Hawley’s plan to challenge the results during the electoral college count by Congress 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 became the first Republican senator to publicly support 2021 efforts to remove Donald Trump from office, stating 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.

Censure

The Lincoln County Republican Party in Nebraska chose to censure GOP Senator Ben Sasse for his comments regarding former President Donald Trump’s impeachment, while the county chair lamented that state law does not allow Sasse to be recalled. “President Trump was ‘impeached’ in the House with no investigation, evidence or due process,” Scotts Bluff County GOP Chair Kolene Woodward wrote in an open letter to Sasse about the decision to censure. “Your support for such a mock judicial proceeding reminiscent of [Soviet Union leader] Joseph Stalin is reprehensible.” Woodward added, “You were elected to represent the people of Nebraska who overwhelmingly voted for President Trump. Your actions are a selfish, political ploy.” Woodward also expressed frustration that there is no way to recall Sasse from the Senate. “Unfortunately, in Nebraska we do not have recall,” the GOP official said. “We don’t have any way of recalling someone who goes to D.C. and does whatever they want, so we are also looking at [whether we can] add that in the future.”

Environment

Sasse has criticized what he refers to as “alarmism” over climate change and has said, “you don’t hear a lot of people who put climate as a No. 1 issue… offering constructive, innovative solutions for the future.” He has stated that “innovation” is the solution to climate change.

Guns

In Sasse’s Senate run in 2014, he received an “AQ” rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA). According to the NRA’s press release, the rating was the most favorable that could be given to a candidate who had no voting record on gun-related issues. The NRA endorsed Sasse in the race.

Sasse has said he could support “red flag” gun legislation only if it protects the constitutional rights of gun owners, doesn’t take away guns without due process, and is limited to people who are convicted of domestic violence or other crimes.

Health care

In announcing his Senate candidacy, Sasse expressed strong opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), describing himself as “the anti-Obamacare candidate” and later declaring that “[i]f 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 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.

LGBT+ rights

Sasse has expressed that he does not support same-sex marriage. After The Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for a state to ban same-sex marriages 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.”

Congressional term limits

Senator Sasse pledged to support a constitutional amendment setting time limits on the terms in office for U.S. Senators and Representatives. In the 117th Congress he cosponsored a bill for a constitutional amendment that would limit Senators to two terms and Representatives to three terms.

Sasse has proposed repealing the Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Repealing that amendment would give state legislators the power to select Senators, eliminating the requirement that Senators be elected by popular vote.

Books

Sasse is the author of The Vanishing American Adult (2017) and Them: Why We Hate Each Other – and How to Heal (2018)

ISBN 978-1-25019368-1. He also co-edited the book Here We Stand!: A Call from Confessing Evangelicals for a Modern Reformation with theologian James Montgomery Boice.

Personal life

Sasse and his wife, Melissa (née McLeod) Sasse, live in Fremont, Nebraska, with their three children. Their children are homeschooled.

Sasse was raised a Lutheran and baptized in the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. As an undergraduate in the early 1990s, he encountered the teachings of W. Robert Godfrey at the Bolton Conference. Sasse identifies this as the time when he and his wife first began to embrace the “reformed faith”. He later became an elder in the United Reformed Churches in North America and served on the board of trustees for Westminster Seminary California. He is a member of Grace Church, a Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) congregation, in Fremont.

  • U.S. senator Ben Sasse official U.S. Senate website
  • Campaign website
  • Appearances on C-SPAN Edit this at Wikidata
  • Biography at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  • Profile at Vote Smart
  • Financial information (federal office) at the Federal Election Commission
  • Legislation sponsored at the Library of Congress
Political offices
Preceded by
Michael O’Grady
Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Planning and Evaluation
2007–2009
Succeeded by
Sherry Glied
Academic offices
Preceded by
Stephen Fritz
President of Midland University
2010–2014
Succeeded by
Jody Horner
Party political offices
Preceded by
Mike Johanns
Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Nebraska
(Class 2)

2014, 2020
Most recent
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Mike Johanns
U.S. senator (Class 2) from Nebraska
2015–present
Served alongside: Deb Fischer
Incumbent
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Joni Ernst
United States senators by seniority
73rd
Succeeded by
Dan Sullivan