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Outgoing Sen. Ben Sasse knows Trump criticism shapes his legacy as he takes over as UF president

Ben Sasse speaking during a hearing
Fresh Take Florida
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., responds to questions by the University of Florida Board of Trustees in Gainesville, Florida, on Nov. 1, 2022, as trustees decided whether to select Sasse as the school's next president.

Ben Sasse, who stepped down as Nebraska senator, discussed his career in politics as he looks forward to becoming president at the University of Florida.

Nebraska's outgoing 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 riot. Those criticisms led to Sasse 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 Gov. Jim Pillen will name Sasse's replacement, and the leading candidate for the job is former Gov. Pete Ricketts who Pillen replaced this month after term limits kept the Republican from running again.