D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser recently proposed that children as young as 11 should be able to consent to vaccinations without their parents’ knowledge. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to talk about whether this is part of a larger agenda to deny parental rights and persuade children to trust government more than their parents.

Among other topics, Lee outlines his new bill designed to hold social media giants accountable for their promises.

And we cover these stories:

  • The Biden administration announces that it will allow families who came into the U.S. illegally and were separated during the Trump administration to remain in the country. 
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says sexual harassment against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo should be taken seriously. 
  • A whopping 70% of conservative academics say their work environment is “hostile.” 

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Rachel del Guidice: I’m joined today on “The Daily Signal Podcast” by Sen. Mike Lee of Utah. Sen. Lee, it’s great to have you back on “The Daily Signal Podcast.”

Sen. Mike Lee: Thank you. It’s good to be with you.

Del Guidice: You recently introduced a resolution disapproving of an order from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, which basically stated that kids as young as 11 can get the COVID vaccine without their parents’ knowledge. Can you tell us about this and also what your response to it was?

Lee: Yeah. So, the District of Columbia adopted a law applicable to D.C. residents that would allow kids to give their own consent to be vaccinated starting at the age of 11.

Now, look, I want to make very clear upfront I believe in vaccinations. I’ve had my own children vaccinated. But I believe that this choice is something that should be made by parents and not by the government.

Not everybody shares my view about vaccines and there’s nothing more fundamental and more sacred … than a parent’s right to have to be the one who gives consent, or withholds consent, for particular medical treatment—particularly, invasive medical treatment, like a vaccine.

When the District of Columbia did this, I recalled the fact that we are the sole sovereign lawmaker over the District of Columbia.

Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 of the Constitution, so-called the Enclave Clause, makes us the ultimate lawmaker over D.C. We’ve delegated out that authority to D.C.’s city government, but we retain the power to undo any of those pieces of legislation.

We’ve got a process by which we can do it. I’m running a resolution to undo this resolution. I think this is a choice that belongs to the parents, not to the government.

Del Guidice: On that note, can we talk a little bit about, do you think there’s a larger agenda here to start removing parental rights and have children be more trusting of the state than even their parents?

Lee: You have seized upon the exact concern I have, Rachel, which is that if we do this here, where does that lead? Well, we know where it leads. The minute you start to say that the government is itself the custodian, the government is the ultimate parent, that inevitably leads to other things.

Now, this in and of itself is a grave diminution and a deprivation in parental rights and in the relationship between the parent and the child. But it could also lead to other bad things, and that’s very concerning to me.

Del Guidice: You recently introduced a bill called the PROMISE Act, and this bill is really designed to hold big tech companies accountable for their promises. Can you start off by just telling us about the bill?

Lee: Sure. In the PROMISE Act, I proposed giving authority to the Federal Trade Commission to go after big tech companies for lying to the public, to lying to consumers, to lying to people who, for example, use a particular social media platform, let’s just say.

When you get one of these free services, when you’re not paying for it, it’s often said that you are the product. You’re not paying for it because you are the product. That’s all fine, but people need to understand what it is that they’re agreeing to. They need to have clear terms of service.

When they offer up terms of service in which they promise, either expressly through their policies or through statements made by their CEOs, when they’re told, for example, “Come onto this site and agree to our terms, and if you do, we will not discriminate on the basis of your political ideology or your views on proper treatment of COVID, or this or that. We’re going to at least treat you evenhandedly as a political matter.”

If they make that promise and then betray it and act in a manner inconsistent with that, the Federal Trade Commission ought to be able to exercise its authority under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act because that is a deceptive practice.

I think that has happened. We’ve had hearing after hearing with people from Facebook and Twitter, and by people, I mean their CEOs, in which we’ve raised this issue, and in which I’ve raised concerns like that.

I’ll point out that they have deplatformed or flagged or otherwise suppressed or mistreated conservative statements over and over and over again.

The CEOs of those companies inevitably tell me something like the following: “Well, it’s OK because we’ve got some Democrats mad at us and some Republicans mad at us, must mean we’re doing something right.”

And I pushed back on that, saying, “OK, I’d like you to tell me, I’d like you to give me a single example of where you’ve done the same thing that I can rattle off by memory of what you’ve done to conservatives. Give me a single corresponding example where you’ve taken similar action to a corresponding statement on the left.”

They couldn’t.

That’s an indication, notwithstanding the fact that they, themselves, the CEOs of these companies, have repeatedly said, “Yeah, we don’t put our thumb on the political scale. We don’t favor or disfavor one political ideology over another.” It’s not true. They need to stand accountable for that.

Del Guidice: Well, bigger picture here, what do you see happening if Big Tech isn’t held accountable? I mean, what lies down the road as people continue to not address this?

Lee: What I worry about is the cancel culture. It’s become almost a cliche. It’s become almost such a common word that we don’t think about it as much.

But when you have the ability of a very small handful of individuals or corporate interests to suppress or promote views that they either disfavor or favor, that ends up being a problem, ends up being a problem for society.

Now, there’s some tension here because on the one hand, if somebody wants to start a company, they want to be liberal activists, they’ve got every right to do that. I don’t want the government interfering with that in and of itself. But there’s a limit to that. Meaning, if you’re defrauding people in the process, that’s a problem. That’s a place where the government can, may, and, I believe, must step in.

Del Guidice: You’ve been vocal on Twitter recently about how there’s been a consistent trend over the past 80 years with both parties really taking the power away from the American people. Can you talk about why this is a problem and what you think the solution is?

Lee: I’m so glad you asked about this. Look, the twin structural protections of the Constitution are as important as any other feature in it.

What I refer to is the vertical protection of federalism keeps most of the power, or it’s supposed to, rather, at the state and local level. It’s not because state, local governments are always better, but they’re closer to the people. They’re easier to hold accountable to the people.

Our Founding Fathers wisely entrusted most powers of government to states and localities, reserving just a few powers at the top, at the federal government—weights and measures, trademarks, copyrights and patents, declaring war, granting letters of mark and reprisal, regulating trade or commerce between the states with foreign nations and with the Indian tribes, coining money, regulating the value thereof, and there are a few basic others, but you get the idea. Everything else is supposed to be left to the states.

We’ve deviated from this vertical protection of federalism by taking this power from the broad base of states and localities, pushing it to Washington. Then, we’ve also deviated from the horizontal protection that we call separation of powers.

We’ve got one branch of the federal government that makes the laws, Congress, legislative branch, where I work. Another branch, the executive branch, headed by the president, that executes, implements, and enforces the laws. You’ve got a third branch, the judiciary, headed by the Supreme Court, that interprets the laws.

As we move power from the states to Washington, we’ve also seen a trend where Congress, uncomfortable with its newfound power and newfound accountability, seeks to avoid that accountability by handing it over to the executive branch, usually to unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats.

You’ve always got somebody else to blame there. Thus, power has been taken away from the American people in two steps. First, from the people to Washington. Within Washington, from the people’s elected lawmakers to unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats. That is bad.

Del Guidice: So what’s the way forward? How would you suggest remedying this?

Lee: We’ve been doing this since the 1930s, and I’ve always believed that it’s no coincidence that the deviation from federalism occurred at the same time as the deviation from separation of powers. I also believe that if you can restore either one of those, to the degree you can restore either one of those, you can also start restoring the other.

One of the first steps that I would like to see is the passage of reforms like the REINS Act, [REINS] stands for Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny.

It says that these big federal regulations put in place by executive branch bureaucrats can’t take effect without Congress affirmatively passing it into law, and the president ultimately having the power to sign or veto the legislation, saying this major rule issued by [the Environmental Protection Agency] or [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration] or whatever alphabet soup agency you’re talking about.

If Congress had to affirmatively enact those things, and all of a sudden you’d have members of Congress being held accountable for those laws, that would start the restoration of separation of powers. So too with the Global Trade Accountability Act, which is something I introduced to do for trade policy what the REINS Act does for regulatory policy.

Little by little, as you see members of Congress having to be held accountable for these things—because they’ll have to take their own votes to have them kick in—you will eventually see, and you mark my words, members of Congress also saying, “Hey, wait, maybe we don’t need to exercise all this power in all these areas.”

Local activities that take place in one state at one time—like mining, agriculture, manufacturing, labor, things like that—should eventually be returned to the states for state regulation, and they will be, if you make Congress actually responsible for passing the laws.

These are baby steps, and they may sound indirectly related to it, but they are the absolute keystone to the whole thing. If we can start restoring separation of powers, we’ll restore federalism, and the opposite is also true.

Del Guidice: Well, House Democrats just passed their Equality Act, which, there’s a lot to this bill, but it’s going to allow biological men in women’s restrooms, boys being able to disrobe in girls’ locker rooms. What is your perspective of the Equality Act? … Is there anything that can be done to counter it?

Lee: My problem with the Equality Act is that it utilizes language upfront. The Equality Act, who can be against equality? And it also uses a cause that I think a very overwhelming majority of Americans would agree with, which is, let’s make sure that equal rights are accorded to LGBT persons.

You take that title and that basic objective, and very few people are going to disagree with it, and very few members of Congress, instinctively, are going to want to vote against something like that.

But when you dig into the details and you see some of the ramifications of this, you can see that it’s not well-crafted and it’s crafted in such a way that’s going to really harm a lot of people.

Our rights are such that they should be things that can be accorded and protected fairly and evenhandedly, and giving someone a right here shouldn’t necessarily deprive a broad other group of people of a corresponding right.

In this case, you’ve got a big problem. Girls and women’s athletics, girls’ and women’s shelters for the victims of sexual domestic abuse, girls’ and women’s locker rooms and restrooms are all examples of things that could, and inevitably would, be jeopardized and ultimately, brought to an end, in the case of girls and women’s athletics, by this legislation.

There are also significant religious freedom implications of it. And by its own terms, it repeals significant swaths of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

And look, it is great to protect all Americans, including LGBT persons. This is not a well-written piece of legislation. It’s bad and it needs to be voted down. I hope that it will [be].

Del Guidice: Sen. Lee, thank you so much for joining us again on “The Daily Signal Podcast.” It’s great having you with us.

Lee: Thank you very much.