SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Thursday that his fellow senators who are urging President Barack Obama to designate a new Greater Canyonlands National Monument should stop playing politics and "keep their mitts off Utah."
Hatch said the 14 senators who signed the letter to the president are "very ultra-liberal," and while he considers them friends, they're getting involved in an issue that should be left up to Utahns.
The interest those senators — a list that includes Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill. — really have in the 1.8 million-acre monument is in boosting their campaign coffers, Hatch said.
"It all comes down to money. It's a good way to raise money from the environmental community. They should keep their mitts off Utah," he said. "They shouldn't be interfering with our state."
Hatch and other GOP members of Utah's congressional delegation have already asked Obama to respect the needs of Utahns and ignore calls for a new national monument coming from a few environmental groups "and their allies in Congress."
But Hatch said he supported Gov. Gary Herbert inviting the 13 Democrats and one independent pushing for the monument to come to Utah and see firsthand what's being done to preserve and optimize the state's public lands.
"I think if they did, they would understand what we're talking about, that we understand our lands a lot better than they'll ever understand them, and they shouldn't be playing politics with Utah lands or any other states' lands," he said.
So far, none of the senators have responded to the governor's invitation, which also included a pitch for the public lands initiative being drafted by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, to curb the president's authority to designate monuments.
Hatch said he is concerned there could be a repeat of President Bill Clinton's controversial surprise 1996 designation of the more than 1.7 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah.
"It was very offensive then, and we hope it doesn't happen again," Hatch said.
He said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell appears to understand the "balance that needs to be taken among the various interests and stakeholders."
Still, Hatch said, the administration may "just want to play politics with it."
Hatch also said there doesn't need to be movement to draft Mitt Romney into the 2016 presidential race because there are plenty of other good Republican candidates available.
Last week, Utah State GOP Chairman James Evans said he was scrapping plans for a national "Draft Mitt" movement after Romney insiders said it distracted from the two-time presidential candidate's efforts to get other Republicans elected this fall.
Evans "should have gotten pushback because that's not the thing to do," Hatch, a Romney supporter, said. "Mitt knows what he wants to do. And right now, his position is they're not going to do this again."
That's not likely to change, Hatch said, given the other possible GOP candidates, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.
If Romney felt running again "was in the best interests of the country, I think he would do whatever it took," Hatch said. "But he'd be the first to say there are a number of really outstanding candidates, and he's going to support one of them."
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