Gov. Bill Lee Offers Incoherent Defense of His Refugee Decision in Interview with Brian Wilson


Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee hemmed, hawed, and waffled Friday as he tried to defend his controversial decision to allow more refugees to resettle in Tennessee.

This happened when he appeared on Nashville’s Morning News with Brian Wilson, broadcast weekday mornings on 99.7 FM WWTN.

Lee was incoherent while answering Wilson’s straightforward questions, including the one Wilson, a former FOX News broadcaster, started off with:

You made a decision, one of the few Republican governors who made the decision to continue taking refugees into the state of Tennesse. This was not something that pleased the speaker of the House or the lieutenant governor or many listeners to this show. Many conservatives were not happy with that decision. What led you to make that decision?

“Yeah you know, what led me to that decision was my conviction, my beliefs, my principles,  and my values,” Lee responded, before he added several vague platitudes and tried to appeal to the people who voted for him in 2018 — by invoking the name of U.S. Republican President Donald Trump, who is still wildly popular with the conservative base:

I think leadership requires that you act on your strong beliefs and principles and convictions and values. Mine are very conservative. Mine are very faith-oriented. I think about leaders that actually are getting things done and moving things in the right direction. And I see that happening. Consider President Trump.

Lee seemed to channel the spirit of a professional politician, despite bragging during last year’s campaign that he had never held elected office and was only a cattle farmer and a businessman:

I don’t think he makes his decisions based on what the latest polling or what the political wind is or what his party believes. I think he acts on his convictions. I had a strong belief. And I looked at this issue from a conservative Christian perspective. To protect our 10th Amendment rights first and foremost, yes.

First of all, I respect President Trump’s process. The vetting process that he’s put in place for this refugee program. It preserves our 10th Amendment rights. It gave me the option to choose to be in this. It also gives us the option to get out of this if we don’t like it. It allows us to continue. By the way, a federal government mandate should never be allowed.

Which this is why this was acceptable by previous administrations or not. And that’s why we have a lawsuit in this state. That should continue. And I think we should continue with a vigor that will protect that 10th amendment right regarding refugee resettlement. And finally, you know what? I have a real personal experience with this.

I’ve worked with Christian ministry groups in refugee camps in Kurdistan. I’ve been in refugee camps in northern Uganda that helped political and religiously persecuted refugees from the Joseph Kony regime up in Sudan. I’ve seen what happens. I know what the repressed look like.

I also know that the United States has a long history for generations of being a beacon of refuge for those that are religiously and politically oppressed. I think it’s part of what’s made our country great.

We should make this country great again and one of the ways we do that is by returning to policies. And if you consider refugee resettlement. Return to refugee policy that’s balanced and right and vetted and safe. President Trump put in a new vetting process for refugees.

He limited the number in this country from 90,000 to 18,000 so that this would only be a few hundred people coming into individual states. That’s the kind of policy that existed when Ronald Reagan was president. That’s the kind of policy for refugees that exists under President Trump now. And all of those things came into my processing.

Wilson tried to press the governor for specifics.

“OK, let me jump in here for a minute. Because you’ve given us a lot of information to chew on. What I’m hearing from you is that this was more of a decision from your heart than from your head,” Wilson said.

“No.  It was a decision based on a number of factors. Including my heart. Including my faith belief that we have a Biblical mandate to provide refuge for those who are persecuted and oppressed,” Lee responded, adding:

I’ve heard a lot of people talking to me about this subject. And I remind people. This is not about illegal immigration.

This is a very different subject. I feel very differently and very strongly and have been very clear about how we should have our borders secure and how we should have a whole different view about illegal immigration. This is about persecuted and repressed political refugees. So yes. It was made with my heart. It required the 10th Amendment preservation.

It required a security vetting process that President Trump has put in place to make sure we know who’s coming in. You know this particular plan allows us to exactly know who’s coming into this state and where they are coming from. So we can attach the folks that come in here to a process that we know what’s happening with them.

It was my heart, but it was also a whole lot of other facts that made this decision one that I could go with.

“Are you surprised by the reaction from the speaker of the House, the lieutenant governor and, well, many people that listen to the program?” Wilson asked.

“Yeah. I’ve realized. First of all, I came into this not being a politician,” Lee answered, adding:

I don’t try to anticipate what a party is going to say. Or leaders what leaders of a party is going to say. I don’t act based on that. I act on my own conservative principles and values. And, most of the time, 99 percent of the time those line up with the vast majority of Republicans and conservatives. There are 132 legislators.

And there’s a lot of folks that work together to get things done in this state. We’re a very conservative state. We have very conservative legislation and a very conservative governor. Most all of the time we’re going to agree on things and I think you’ve seen that in the last year. But…

But, there’s going to be disagreement. I’m not surprised by that. Also, I’m also a person that believes disagreement is fine. You agree to disagree on things so long as you make decisions on strong principals. And then you move forward. I spoke with the speaker just, I seem him regularly. We talk regularly. I have a great relationship with the new speaker. I’m excited about working with him. Lieutenant Governor McNally and I.

Wilson had to jump in — again.

“Wait wait wait. I have to ask you a question then,” he interjected.

“If you are excited and you have great respect for him, tell me why he felt like he got waylaid by this announcement? He said I didn’t have any idea that this was coming. I got no warning and no advance notice of it whatsoever. In fact, you and he had a conversation about that did you not?” he asked.

The governor appeared not to understand the question, which was why he had not taken the initiative in advance to give McNally and Sexton a heads up, and he instead blindsided them with his announcement on refugees:

Exactly. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. So he’s a new speaker. I’ve been the governor for 10 months. We’re developing this relationship. As soon as he says he was surprised by that, I got together with him. And I said, ‘Hey let’s communicate even better. Let’s figure out how you and I, I don’t want to surprise you and I don’t want you to surprise me. We’re not going to agree on everything.’

But you know what, we’re in this together. He and I are building a strong relationship. I have a great deal of respect for that man. He’s a great leader and a very principled conservative himself. We didn’t agree on this issue. We’re learning how to work together. He’s new in this job, and I’m new in this job too. Just because we had a disagreement, doesn’t mean that we’re not being on the same page.

It required a security vetting process that President Trump has put in place to make sure we know who’s coming in. You know this particular plan allows us to exactly know who’s coming into this state and where they are coming from. So we can attach the folks that come in here to a process that we know what’s happening with them.

You can listen to the full audio of the interview here.

As The Tennessee Star reported this week, Trump issued an executive order in September that asked states and cities to consent in writing if they want to continue refugee resettlements — and it was Lee’s decision to make.

Also as reported, the two leading contenders for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate to replace retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) disagree with Lee’s  decision.

Readers of The Star said they weren’t having any of it.

A large contingent of our readers said earlier this month on our website and our Facebook page that they would adamantly oppose Lee taking this action, so much so they would make him a one-term and done governor.

Gov. Lee’s office did not address our readers’ concerns.

– – –

Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Bill Lee” by Bill Lee.





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25 Thoughts to “Gov. Bill Lee Offers Incoherent Defense of His Refugee Decision in Interview with Brian Wilson”

  1. […] Lee’s first “incoherent defense of his refugee decision” Monday’s radio host went overboard trying to minimize the overwhelming public criticism of the […]

  2. Lee Clouse

    Bill lee you are a one term man buddy enjoy you sold out your state you sold out the people you represent you have proven yourself to be a liar and another dishonest politician that has no interest in representing the people that elected him we will take care of you next election buddy

  3. donnie

    I think we need to our homeless frist

  4. Keith

    He made a decision vased on good vetting and the bible. Why be mad about that?

    1. Bruce Harwell

      Gov. Lee can’t pick and choose the refugees that TN receives. If the feds send us “refugees” who are illegal Muslim men ages 18-30, will he be allowed to refuse them? The vast majority of illegals, once caught, claim refugee status and may (until recently) stay in TN until their status is determined. A lot aren’t vetted at all. Some can’t be vetted because no records exist in the originating country. Trump has recently changed Obama’s policy of their waiting in the US, and now requires refugee wannabes to wait deep inside Mexico, but there are undoubtedly Obama’s “refugees” waiting in the US for their status–and I bet my last dollar that THOSE are whom we get. Lee has NOTHING to say about it!

      Picture the US as a life boat after a ship has sunk. It might be weeks before you are rescued, and there are limited resources of water and food, enough for 10 people for 30 days. Would you keep on letting more people in after the 10th gets on board? How about 20? 50? 100? What if the ship was transporting prisoners, and you don’t know if you’re letting on convicted rapists, murderers, thieves, or an honest Christian crew member. You just wouldn’t know–and neither does Lee!

  5. […] in defending his decision, and even likening himself to President Trump, The Tennessee Star reported. Lee made his stand on Nashville’s Morning News with Brian Wilson, broadcast weekday mornings on […]

  6. […] in defending his decision, and even likening himself to President Trump, The Tennessee Star reported. Lee made his stand on Nashville’s Morning News with Brian Wilson, broadcast weekday mornings on […]

  7. Darrell Hess

    What Lee professes and what he does are two different things. I wondered if he was a true Christian or bought off politician, now we know.

  8. Peter Pan

    Either he rescinds his offer to take in more refugees or he gives back the keys to the Governor’s mansion. This was a HUGE unforced error. How out of touch can the man be? I think he thinks that if loses a tooth he will get $1 left under his pillow. I told my friends when he was running for office that he would make a great pastor but a lousy governor. I can’t get over him being so divergent from his constituents on this issue. Who is he getting his advice from? AOC? Maxine Waters?

  9. Mark king

    We need to get LEE out of office ,as soon as possible,before he wants a bunch of illegal immigrants as well. Give them money, free housing and whatever he can give them. He needs to let a bunch of them come live with him in his house. Get him OUT NOW!!


      next time vote him out or run for office yourself ,if he can run anyone can

  10. Carla

    So disappointed by this. We gave time and a chunk of money to support him, and I so regret it. This is something Elizabeth Warren and AOC would do, not a conservative governor.

  11. Rick

    As Was said previously he is to represent Tennesseans not make decisions based on his personal beliefs. A bad decision he cannot defend. One term Lee!

  12. Dean from Knoxville

    I agree, if TRUMP can be impeached for nothing, how about impeaching Lee for this???

  13. Kurt Finley

    If he goes through with this knowing how the people of Tennessee feels about it, we’ll never vote for him again! Governor Lee I do not support bringing in more refugees to Tennessee

  14. Frank

    Governor, we gave you the job to represent us (protect our state (financialy/safety) – not just you. This is not about you and we do not make decisions only based on your beliefs. Bad move. Change that decision or our support for you will end.

  15. Ralph

    To the extent that this is an accurate report, I will have to say Gov. Lee appears to be disingenuous on his two major points, i.e., supporting President Trump and adhering to his Christian faith.

    In his remarks to the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly on 25 September 2018, President Trump had this to say in reference to refugees from Syria (and refugees in general):

    “As we see in Jordan, the most compassionate policy is to place refugees as close to their homes as possible to ease their eventual return to be part of the rebuilding process. This approach also stretches finite resources to help far more people, increasing the impact of every dollar spent.”

    So in his newly found “Welcome refugees!” policy, Gov. Lee has not only been directly contrary to the President’s objectives, he has ignored his Christian faith by not adopting a policy that would do the most good for the most people.

    In other words, he has condemned countless thousands, if not millions, of innocent victims of war, corruption, and natural disaster to continuing persecution, misery, exploitation, and even death by adopting a policy that provides refuge to a privileged few here in Tennessee rather than the 5, 10, or even 100’s of others that would otherwise be provided desperately needed refuge.

    And it’s not just the quantity, but the quality of refuge provided. Yes, on the surface, an apartment in Nashville appears infinitely preferable to a tent camp in Jordan. But remember, too, that that family has just now been completely dissociated from its lifestyle, its culture, its social and cultural values and beliefs, and its familial and community support. Instead, it has now been thrust into an alien environment where the food is unpalatable, the language unknown, it is removed from its extended family and community and, instead, now faces the enmity of the general native populace and whose children now must struggle with a foreign language, suffer grave, irreversible damage to their self-esteem, and simultaneously teachers have to slew to the lowest common denominator and thereby neglect the education of its native children.

    The list is long.

    So cui bono, who benefits? One of the finest and most forthright organizations exposing the refugee fraudsters is Refugee Resettlement Watch (RRW), based in western Maryland:


    And for an in-depth expose of how TIRRC and other such agencies were explicitly delighted with Governor Lee’s decision, here’s the following:

    No, Governor, your defense is transparently weak and even disingenuous. Not all of us out here sit around on our butts eating Cheetos and toss out half-assed opinions in the finest tradition of the Dunning-Kruger effect; some of us do the research and, in this instance, you’ve been had. You betrayed not only the trust of your supporters, but your very Christian faith.

    Absent your full and immediate recant of this misguided decision, I have to give serious consideration to supporting a recall initiative. I supported your campaign on the basis of the three key points of your platform: a good job, a good education for your kids, and a safe neighborhood to live in, for all Tennesseans. So if everything else here doesn’t register, remember that your decision here represents a direct slap in the face on all three points.

  16. David Langford

    This is a bunch of crap from Lee. I know FOR A FACT these aren’t political refugees. Some maybe, but majority, NO. This is a global push to exterminate any voting power of American citizens. We’re not stupid Lee. We don’t appreciate you treating us like we are.

  17. Ron Welch

    As Govenor, Bill Lee’s first duty is to the State of Tennessee, its People and State Constitution.

    If he chooses to allow refugees, then he cannot impose their accommodation and cost on the People, but should first enlist persons who choose and will be individually responsible for them.

    I share and appreciate his Christian Faith perspective, but that is most definitively stated in the Word of God:

    But if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel.
    —I Timothy 5:8

    Gov. Lee is to govern not by feelings or personal preferences, but according to his oath of office. And in his position, the People of Tennessee come first!

    If a man vow a vow u to the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do all that proceeds th out of his mouth. –Numbers 30:2

    1. Barbara Stone

      He will spend 1 term and then he’s gone!

  18. John Williams

    Bill Lee may be Tennessee’s first half-term governor.

    1. Ron Welch

      Mary, good call!

    2. Ralph

      This is how:

      Tennessee isn’t one of the 19 states that allows for the recall of state officials. TCA only allows for recalling local officials, not state. Egg is on my face too, I thought it was otherwise. Now, we can pressure the state legislature to essentially moot him, and thereby get him to resign. But recall isn’t an option. We could also convene a Citizen’s Grand Jury and indict him on failure to execute in accordance with his electoral mandate – I like that.

      But I’d like it far, far more if he simply acknowledged his mistake and got back on board with those who elected him in the first place. He is not a man above that, he did so with his business when he overextended himself and got into a jam ( which was one of the reasons I supported him and still do.) In that instance, he acknowledged that he screwed up and was about to lose his multi generational family business, and he took steps to get back on track. That’s what’s needed…Right…Now. The clock is ticking and he gave his detractors and establishment weenies exactly what they needed to make him useless – pull your head out and get with it Guv – we’re depending on you to do the right thing. You’re a good man, I know that, and it’s why I voted for you, contributed to your campaign, and did what I could to see you get elected. This pit of establishment vipers here wanted DC Diane, and the odds were in her favor.

      We did our part, now do yours. Get on it….now.