Utah state lawmakers Peter Knudson, Curt Webb and Val Potter all voted for President Donald Trump. But ask for their thoughts about the businessman-turned-leader-of-the-free-world and it causes some pause.
That’s because although they agree with him politically, they don’t always think he’s presidential.
“I’m a Republican Party guy; I always have been,” said Webb, R-Providence. “I think the president is — I’m not sure I’ve ever really tried to put it in words.”
Potter, R-North Logan, believes Trump’s use of Twitter is the president’s “biggest negative.”
“He’s too quick to attack negative comments, and anybody in elected office is going to get negative comments,” he said. “You just have to roll with it.”
Knudson, R-Brigham City, chuckled about the president’s communication style.
“We’ve become accustomed to our presidents being presidential — I don’t know what other word to use,” he said. “He is, selectively.”
Despite their complaints about Trump, the three lawmakers came down to the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday to hear him speak during his first visit to the state as president. Logan Rep. Ed Redd and Sen. Lyle Hillyard did not attend the speech because they had other commitments.
The three men’s decision to see Trump highlights a delicate dance many party faithful — including Washington’s most powerful players — have found themselves doing since the new president took office: being critical when necessary while also supporting Trump’s agenda where they can.
Trump’s decision to scale back Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah on Monday is something the three valley lawmakers can get behind.
“No other president probably would have actually had the courage to do this,” Webb said. “It takes a certain personality to say enough is enough.”
Amid Utah’s congressional and state delegations, Native American tribes and people wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, Trump signed two proclamations on Monday, modifying the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase to create five monuments.
The Bears Ears proclamation creates two smaller monument units: Shash Jáa and Indian Creek, which the Trump administration believes protects only the most “important objects of scientific or historic interest” in the area, according to text of the document on the White House website.
Grand Staircase-Escalante’s proclamation breaks up the previous monument designation into small, more defined spaces: “Grand Staircase,” “Kaiparowits” and “Escalante Canyons,” according to the Interior Department’s website.
“Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington,” Trump said. “And guess what? They’re wrong.”
He said scaling the monuments back Monday would “not only give back your voice over use of this land,” but “we will also restore your access and enjoyment.”
“Public lands will once again be for public use,” Trump said.
Webb was enthusiastic about Trump’s actions Monday.
“It was probably time for a counter-punch,” he said.
Knudson praised Trump’s announcement after the event but cautioned: “It’s going to take time to implement a lot of this, and it’s going to take some money.”
As a prelude to Monday’s visit, Trump signed an executive order in April ordering Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review all monument designations since 1996. The resulting recommendations: Slash Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante and a host of other monuments.
“The president made a promise,” Zinke told attendees Monday. “He said he would listen. There’s not too many presidents that would do what he’s about to do.”
Zinke’s review was prompted in part by Bill Clinton’s designation of Grand Staircase-Escalante in 1996 and Barack Obama’s order to make Bears Ears a national monument in his last month as president — both of which are sore spots for Republicans, including Cache Valley lawmakers.
The GOP tends to view the two former presidents’ actions as examples of how the law that gives presidents the authority to designate national monuments, the Antiquities Act, has been misused.
Trump echoed this point in remarks Monday.
“This law requires that only the smallest necessary area be set aside for special protection as national monuments,” he said. “Previous administrations have ignored the standard and used the law to lock up hundreds of millions of acres of land and water under strict government control.”
In an interview, Potter pointed to the particular section of the act that Trump referred to, using Obama’s order to designate Bears Ears as an example.
“(Obama was) protecting it for antiquities, and antiquities are based in very small areas,” he said. “They’ve got hundreds of thousands of acres that are just beautiful federal lands; there’s no antiquities, no ancient artifacts on those properties.”
Potter and his legislative colleagues have not gone silent on the issue of national monuments, which is part of the reason they came to see Trump speak Monday.
Earlier this year, the Legislature approved, and Gov. Gary Herbert signed, two resolutions asking Trump to rescind the national monument designation for Bears Ears and to reduce or modify Grand Staircase-Escalante.
“What we did was we handed them a tool that they (Utah’s congressional delegation) can use to fight the fight,” Potter said.
Now that Trump scaled back two of Utah’s national monuments, Potter believes it enhances the Legislature’s case on public lands.
“Cache County has a considerable amount of land, not as much as Southern Utah, but it’s still important for us,” he said. “I think it sets a precedence for what the federal government will do in the future with federal lands.”
Webb believes Trump’s actions represent a turning point in how lawmakers and people view the use of public lands.
“This may be a defining moment in getting the pendulum to swing back in the other direction,” he said. “The pendulum’s swung so far one direction that somebody like Trump has to have the courage to … resist and to push it back.”