When President Joe Biden visited several western states in August, he followed the lead of other Democratic presidents by designating a large swath of land — nearly 1 million acres — in Arizona as a new national monument called the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni Grand Canyon.
While Democratic politicians in the area cheered the designation, several Republicans spoke up in frustration, particularly over rich uranium deposits in the area that will now be off-limits for mining.
Sen. Mike Lee released a statement at the time saying Biden’s decision “embodies a disturbing trend toward top-down management that Democrat presidential administrations have consistently showcased.”
“It’s time for President Biden to reflect, revisit his tactics, and release the chokehold currently suffocating local livelihoods and our domestic energy production, especially if he wants to decrease our dependence on sources from adversarial nations,” he said.
The power to designate national monuments comes from a 1906 bill called the Antiquities Act, and has been used in recent years by Democratic presidents — including former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton — to create monuments covering millions of acres of land in the West.
On Thursday, Lee sponsored a bill that would amend the Antiquities Act to require congressional approval for new national monument designations in his latest effort to reform the act.
“The intent of the Antiquities Act was clear — to protect significant archaeological and historic sites, but to do so with discretion and to ensure that the designated area was confined to the smallest size necessary for their protection,” he said in a statement. “Regrettably, we have seen designations that far exceed this directive, impacting millions of acres and the lives of many families in the West.”
Several other western Republican lawmakers, including Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, and Idaho Sen. Jim Risch signed on in the Senate. Rep. John Curtis, who represents Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, which includes large swaths of public lands, introduced similar language in the House.
Lee popular among conservatives nationally, in Utah
This bill represents the latest version of Lee’s vision about government, especially executive overreach and federalism.
He is lauded by national conservative groups. He has a lifetime score of 96% with Heritage Action, reflecting both his Tea Party roots and continued support for limited government.
His approval ratings in Utah reflect these conservative views.
Lee receives high approval numbers from Utah Republicans, with 65% saying they approve of his performance, while only 8% of Democrats approve, according to a Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll.
Among very conservative Utahns he has an 88% approval rating, which drops to 67% among those who describe themselves as somewhat conservative, 34% among moderates, 14% in the somewhat liberal category, and 1% among those who describe themselves as very liberal.
The poll was conducted Aug. 7-14 of 803 registered Utah voters by Dan Jones & Associates, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.
Overall, 49% of registered voters say they strongly or somewhat approve of Lee, while 45% say they somewhat or strongly disapprove.
Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute for Politics at the University of Utah, said Lee’s numbers show how he has stuck to a consistent message during his time in the Senate.
“This poll demonstrates the consistency of his numbers over time, which fluctuate very little in terms of the approvals and the disapprovals,” said Perry. “But the one number he continues to watch the closest is that 65% approval of Republicans. That is the most critical number for him and that has stayed consistent over time.”
Lee also regularly draws criticism from those who don’t like his approach, especially on social media where he likes to tweet from his @BasedMikeLee account. But that doesn’t seem to have changed his methods.
Just this week, at a press conference and in Senate Judiciary hearings, he staked out conservative positions on controversial issues, including the budget, book bans and transgender prison inmates.
Lee aligned with House Freedom Caucus on budget
Lee spoke about the issue of passing spending bills at a press conference alongside members of the House Freedom Caucus this week.
“We’re $33 trillion in debt for one reason — we’re doing it wrong,” he said. “This is how we spend in Washington: We tie every single spending item to every other spending item, and then members of Congress are told, ‘you’ve got to pass all of it in order to get any of it.’”
But, Lee said, lawmakers don’t have the opportunity “to read it, to understand what’s in it, to share it with your constituents, to object to it, to improve it, to cut it — nothing.”
“So the law firm of Schumer, McConnell, McCarthy and Jefferies... it keeps running the bills. And what that means is that the hundreds of millions of people that most members of Congress represent are in turn cut out of the process,” he said, adding that the process is “deficit and debt ushering.”
Hearing on Book bans
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday that examined censorship limits on literature, Lee played a video of American Library Association’s legal counsel Deborah Caldwell-Stone saying that the conversation on book banning needs to be reframed from materials that are sexually inappropriate to something that promotes ideals of diversity and inclusion.
After the video ended, Lee said that Caldwell-Stone was saying the quiet part out loud.
“The goal here is to sexualize children, provide minors with sexually explicit material, and then hide this content from the parents. Hide it by changing the messaging,” the Utah senator said.
Lee said the question wasn’t really about whether books should be banned, but whether these books should be included in the library or school curriculum.
Hearing on Bureau of Prisons
At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday on the oversight of the Bureau of Prisons, Lee asked the federal agency’s director, Colette S. Peters, questions about transgender inmates.
“Why do you ever subject female inmates to being incarcerated against their will with biologically male prisoners?” he said.
He said he found it alarming that the biological sex, reproductive organs or the presence of a Y chromosome weren’t being taken into account.
“Is biology now a verboten subject? When you determine which prison you’re going to send a prisoner to be incarcerated in, is that off-limits?” Lee asked.
Colette said that a majority of prisoners were placed in facilities according to their gender.
“That’s good to know,” Lee said. “But why not all of them? Why would you ever subject female inmates, in particular, who face a series of biological disadvantages relative to male prisoners? Considering the number of pregnancies that take place, the number of heinous circumstances that can result from this, and in fact, have resulted from this.”