Senate rejects bid to block future national monuments in Utah

In a bipartisan vote, senators on Monday blocked a measure that would have prevented presidents from unilaterally protecting land in Utah as national monuments.

Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeMcConnell shores up GOP support for coronavirus package McConnell tries to unify GOP Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump MORE (R-Utah) wanted to attach the amendment to the Natural Resources Management Act, a wide-ranging public lands bill that has bipartisan support. The legislation includes provisions related to recreation, access to land and indefinitely extending the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

A motion to table Lee's amendment, or reject it, passed 60-33.

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Under the Antiquities Act, presidents can unilaterally designate any piece of federal land as a national monument, protecting it from development or other harms. In Wyoming, such monuments can only be created with consent from Congress, while Alaska has a restriction against large monuments.

“At a bare minimum, Utah deserves the same protection that Wyoming has received,” Lee said before the vote. “Let me be clear: My opposition is not about whether our national treasures, our parks, monuments, lands should be protected. It is not about whether they should be but how to do that and who is best equipped to do that and who is most knowledgeable to do it well."

He went on to say that he's “asking for Utah’s elected leaders, its elected lawmakers in Congress, to weigh in on these matters before they become law rather than to have those decisions being made from thousands of miles away by just one person.”

Utah leaders are still reeling over former President Clinton’s creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and former President Obama’s creation of the Bears Ears National Monument, both in southern Utah. President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden leads Trump by 36 points nationally among Latinos: poll Trump dismisses climate change role in fires, says Newsom needs to manage forest better Jimmy Kimmel hits Trump for rallies while hosting Emmy Awards MORE shrunk both monuments significantly, a move that’s under litigation.

Lee blocked the public lands bill from moving forward in December because he could not attach the Utah provision. He also argued that lawmakers did not have enough time to review the entire bill.

Senators in both parties argued that the amendment threatened a bipartisan agreement.

Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMcConnell locks down key GOP votes in Supreme Court fight Most Americans think winner of election should pick next Supreme Court justice: poll Murkowski: Supreme Court nominee should not be taken up before election MORE (R-Alaska) said she agreed with many of Lee’s arguments and pledged to work with him on the matter.

“But our dilemma, if you will, is we have a package before us of lands bills, of water bills, of sportsmen ... provisions, of conservation provisions that we have been working to build that level of consensus," she said, adding that Lee's amendment "would bring down this effort.”

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinNames to watch as Trump picks Ginsburg replacement on Supreme Court Momentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day Gardner on court vacancy: Country needs to mourn Ginsburg 'before the politics begin' MORE (W.Va.), the committee’s top Democrat, said the public lands bill is not the place for Lee’s amendment.

“I have talked to Sen. Lee many times about his concerns with national monuments in his state, and while I respect his views, I will oppose any amendment which threatens the success of the lands bill,” he said before the vote.