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Washington • Rep. Jason Chaffetz urged President Donald Trump on Tuesday to reverse the designation of Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah during a face-to-face White House meeting and discussed a host of measures to reform the federal bureaucracy, but they did not venture into any potential oversight of the Trump administration.
Chaffetz, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the president warned at the outset of the meeting before the Utah Republican could sit down that any oversight issues would not be part of their conversation. Chaffetz didn't push back, he said.
"At the appropriate time, perhaps [I will], but while we have ongoing investigations that's not what I was there to talk to the president about," Chaffetz said, referring to probes he began when Barack Obama was president. While Chaffetz hasn't launched any Trump-specific investigations, he noted that the new president told him during a Republican retreat in Philadelphia previously that he shouldn't shy away from doing his job as Oversight chairman.
Trump sat behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office and Chaffetz and White House Chief of Staff Reince Preibus sat to the side as the Utah congressman rattled off a list of reforms he'd like to push through, from streamlining civil servant protections, writing up changes to the Postal Service to limiting the president's power under the Antiquities Act to name new national monuments.
"He asked probing questions but did not express any serious reservations about any of these," Chaffetz said about their 30-minute encounter. "He was very inquisitive and for that I was really grateful."
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump and Chaffetz would discuss the president's "reform agenda" but did not elaborate. The White House was initially going to allow a small pool of reporters and photographers into the Oval Office for a brief photo op but then canceled the access after the group of journalists had assembled.
Chaffetz said he presented Priebus with a copy of a letter from Utah's members of Congress asking Trump to revoke then-President Barack Obama's designation in December of the 1.35 million acre Bears Ears National Monument, as well as the resolution passed by the Utah Legislature and signed by Gov. Gary Herbert to jettison the designation.
Chaffetz said he got no promises from the president but Trump did ask for more information on the Bears Ears monument and the Antiquities Act.
"He was more in the receiving mode," Chaffetz said. "I think he was very sympathetic to the hardship that it creates for Utahns."
The monument was welcomed by conservation groups and American Indians but derided by Utah's Republican politicians. Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, Trump's pick to head the Interior Department, has vowed to visit Utah as one of his first trips and hear more about the monument.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, who met with Trump for 90 minutes recently, also pressed the president to toss out the Bears Ears monument.
No president has ever rescinded a monument designation by a prior White House occupant and some question whether such authority exists.
Chaffetz also said the two discussed legislation that would require online retailers to charge state and local sales taxes and Trump "really did sympathize with retailers who are struggling because of the disparities in their state."
And Chaffetz, who had launched an investigation into the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on a U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where four Americans died, added that he spoke to the president about the need to boost security at U.S. embassies, including the soon-to-be opened facility in London.