Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) believes President Joe Biden isn’t taking his call for unity to heart.
Following Inauguration Day, President Biden signed an unprecedented number of executive orders— including one to restore Bears Ears National Monument in San Juan County, Utah, to its original size.
To Senator Lee and the entire Utah delegation, this goes against the “unity” Biden preached on Wednesday.
“I find it significant that in his inaugural address President Biden pledged, as he put it—“his whole soul”—to the task of bringing America together, uniting our people and uniting our nation,” Lee said.
“Sadly, though, just a few hours later, President Biden signed a slew of executive orders. One of which would, or could, make it next to impossible for him to honor that promise to unite our nation—particularly with respect to the growing divide between rural Americans and their urban counterparts.”
During our conversation Senator Lee discussed the Antiquities Act, public lands, Interior Secretary nominee Deb Haaland, and whether or not Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) will be a reliable swing vote.
Lee Wants to Help Tackle Antiquities Act Shortcomings
In December 2016, President Obama established Bears Ears National Monument without consulting Utah lawmakers and stakeholders.
Under the Antiquities Act of 1906, presidents have the authority to designate or shrink national monuments provided they are “confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”
Trump’s Interior Secretary ordered a review of national monuments in April 2017 resulting in Bears Ears and the Clinton-era Grand Staircase-Escalante being scaled down. Biden will revert them to their original size.
Since courts haven’t weighed much here yet, Congress must step in. Senator Lee agrees. He hopes two of his new bills, including Senate Bill 31, would “limit the establishment or extension of national monuments.”
Lee believes the Antiquities Act is weaponized by radical environmental activists and wealthy coastal elites “who fund them to prevent rural Americans from using public land to provide for their families.”
“I think it's important for us to return to the bargaining table and find a solution,” the Utah senator added. “I think President Biden has an opportunity to take a path of respect and compromise and unity.”
The Our Lost Constitution author warned, however, pursuing this directive without the necessary consultation could be perceived as “a gratuitous act of aggression” by the Biden administration, coastal elites, and “supporters against the working families of rural Utah and other parts of our country.”
Lee Responds to Critics Over Public Lands Stances
I asked Senator Lee to respond to critics who accused him of hating public lands.
Utah’s senior senator responded, “That's an absurd accusation to suggest that I'm opposed to public lands categorically or to say that I've somehow suggested that public lands are only for upper crust elites. It is very often upper crust elites who are pushing aggressive action as to federal public lands.”
“It's a very different question from whether public lands have a purpose, which they do.”
He continued, “I'm in favor of having public lands. I think public lands are a good thing. I like National Parks...And I'm not categorically opposed to the idea of public lands.”
On Deb Haaland’s Nomination
Another question I had for Senator Lee concerned Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-NM)’s nomination to lead the Department of Interior.
I asked if her stance on national monuments and support for the Green New Deal, for example, could jeopardize her confirmation.
“I certainly have questions, as I always will of any Interior Secretary as I sit on the committee [Senate Energy and Natural Resources] that will review her nomination,” Lee replied.
“I look forward to an open frank conversation with her and I look forward to hearing how she analyzes this and...if she does want to advocate for this step, why she thinks that would be a good idea.”
He continued, “One of the questions that I intend to ask is, where does it lead? Do they really want —consistent with what President Biden said in his inaugural address—to unite? And if so, do they really want to be the people who come in and take an action that while popular with some people would be devastating to many who live on or near this land. Is that what they want?”
Senator Manchin’s Dependability as a Swing Vote
Senator Lee sits on the aforementioned Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources with incoming chairman Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV).
The constitutional conservative is confident his colleague will vote with Senate Republicans on most issues—especially on matters related to energy and natural resources.
“He [Manchin] and I were both elected to the Senate in 2010,” Lee said. “In addition to being a colleague on the committee and in the Senate generally, he's also a personal friend. I have dinner with Joe on a very regular basis.”
“I know that he's got a strong commitment to making sure that the government doesn't hurt people, and that it's in its zeal to achieve this or that political game—[that] it doesn't do things that make life harder for hard working Americans.”