Acting as if they don’t have anything better to do (and they certainly do!) the Republican “leadership” in the U.S. House of Representatives today engineered a vote on a bill that would gut the Antiquities Act, legislation dating back the early 1900s that allows presidents to designate national monuments.
As Ken Burns and his team explained in his wonderful documentary series The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, the Antiquities Act, enacted during the early years of the Progressive Era, has been a great blessing to our country.
Presidents from Teddy Roosevelt to Barack Obama have used it to safeguard a number of national treasures, including several here in Washington State.
But the modern Republican Party unfortunately doesn’t believe in conservation or wilderness protection. There seem to be fewer and fewer Republicans interested in preserving the majesty and grandeur of America (what’s left of it, anyway) for future generations. Republicans would rather blow up our mountains, cut down our forests, pave over our prairies, and mutilate our coastlines. It’s really sad.
Republicans clearly don’t want President Obama designating any more national monuments. The President used his powers under the Antiquities Act sparingly during his first term, but under Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, formerly of REI, the Obama administration has signaled that it plans to make protecting more of the nation’s public lands a priority. That has got House Republicans all upset.
Over two hundred Republicans (and, I’m sad to report, three Democrats) voted in favor of H.R. 1459, titled, “To ensure that the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 applies to the declaration of national monuments, and for other purposes”. The final vote was two hundred and twenty-two to two hundred and one.
Ten Republicans broke with their caucus to vote no, including Dave Reichert of Washington. The roll call vote for the Pacific Northwest as follows:
Voting Aye: Republicans Doc Hastings, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Jaime Herrera-Beutler (WA), Greg Walden (OR), Don Young (AK) Labrador and Mike Simpson (ID), Steve Daines (MT)
Voting Nay: Democrats Rick Larsen, Derek Kilmer, Jim McDermott, Adam Smith, Denny Heck (WA), Suzanne Bonamici, Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader (OR); Republican Dave Reichert (WA)
Not Voting: Democrat Suzan DelBene (DelBene is here in Washington due to the mudslide in Oso, which is part of her district)
Excerpt for Reichert, our region voted along party lines. The three Democrats who voted with the Republicans for the bill were Jim Matheson of Utah, Henry Cuellar of Texas, and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina.
Many Democrats excoriated the legislation, which basically restricts the President of the United States to designating one national monument per four-year term.
“We shouldn’t play games with Washington’s protected public lands,” said Representative Denny Heck. “Both Democratic and Republican presidents have used this law to preserve some of the most beautiful sites in our state and country, and this bill would needlessly complicate the process.”
Among those places are the Olympics. Although Olympic is today a National Park, it was first designated a National Monument by Theodore Roosevelt in 1909. It was upgraded to a National Park under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1938. In 1981 it was recognized as a World Heritage site. Some ninety-five percent of the park was subsequently given wilderness protection by Congress in 1988.
Had the Olympics not been protected by Teddy Roosevelt, we would not be able to enjoy them as we do today. Many of the other national parks that we know and love also began as national monuments, such as the Grand Canyon… a place so important to Arizona’s identity that it calls itself “the Grand Canyon State”.
H.R. 1459 is yet another time-wasting bill. Even if it were to get through the Senate (and it won’t), it would be vetoed by President Obama. This is ill-conceived legislation that seems to have been designed to allow Republicans to pander to their base… which is about all that they ever really do.
The 2010s era House Republican Caucus easily ranks among the worst in American history when it comes to governing, let alone governing well.