Utah independent candidate Evan McMullin won’t caucus with Republicans or Democrats if he’s elected to the Senate, prompting criticism from some corners of the GOP that the decision will limit his influence in Congress.

McMullin, who won the backing of the Utah Democratic Party during its convention last week, would refrain from caucusing with either party as a way to maintain independence and fulfill campaign promises to create a bipartisan coalition, according to his campaign. The move breaks from customary Senate practices, as third-party and independent senators typically caucus with one of the major parties in order to secure a committee assignment.

"Evan has pledged not to caucus with either party and to maintain his independence," Kelsey Witt, the communications director for McMullin's campaign, told the Washington Examiner. "This will allow him to answer to Utahns and to his conscience — and not to party bosses or to the extremes that dominate our politics today. This will also increase his effectiveness and influence for Utahns in the U.S. Senate."

Under Senate rules, each senator “shall serve on” multiple committees that are determined by their party conference, and independent senators are typically nominated to a position by caucusing with a major party to receive an assignment. It’s not entirely clear from Senate rules how an independent candidate without party ties would receive a committee nomination, eliciting concerns that McMullin’s bid to remain independent could cost Utah some committee representation.


Two independent senators, Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, caucus with and receive committee assignments from Democrats.

Republican Sen. Mike Lee, whom McMullin is vying to unseat in the November election, serves on two committees, including the Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining — a position that Utah voters may want to keep a hold on.

Almost 70% of voters in Mountain West states have reported concerns about the future of natural land, with 86% saying environmental concerns such as clean water and public lands are one of their top priorities when considering a candidate, according to an annual survey by Colorado College.

However, McMullin’s campaign has maintained that his pledge to remain independent won’t affect his ability to serve on committees or hinder his influence in the Senate. By abstaining from caucusing with either party, the independent candidate has argued he will be able to represent all Utah voters rather than limiting himself to align with one party.

"With a Senate closely divided, Evan will be perfectly positioned to find common ground among both parties and shape legislation that benefits Utahns and breaks the gridlock in Washington," Witt said. "This is exactly what Utahns and the country needs. Both parties will need Evan’s vote, and we are confident he will get appropriate committee assignments."

McMullin received the backing of Utah Democratic delegates, who opted in a first-of-its-kind move not to advance a candidate from their own party in a 782-594 vote on April 23. The vote effectively solidifies the November election as a two-way race between Lee and McMullin, a onetime Republican who ran an unsuccessful presidential bid against Donald Trump in 2016 and is Lee’s top challenger.


The independent candidate persuaded Utah Democrats that he was the best choice for their party, telling delegates he wishes to create a bipartisan coalition. This pitch may prove successful because, although it’s a reliably red state, Republicans in Utah remain hesitant to back the former president, which may complicate Lee’s reelection bid. Lee is seen as one of Trump’s strong allies.

Lee's office did not respond to a request for comment by the Washington Examiner.