Trump Wanted to Change Name of America's Biggest Mountain, to Undo Another Obama Move

Barack Obama congratulates President Donald Trump after he took the oath of office on January 20. Chip Somodevilla/Getty

President Donald Trump brought up a campaign promise during a March meeting with the U.S. senators from Alaska, asking whether he could roll back President Barack Obama's 2015 decision to rename the tallest mountain on the continent, spokespeople for the senators confirmed to Newsweek on Monday.

Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan were meeting with Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in the Oval Office to talk about issues affecting Alaska, including the economy, the military and Arctic drilling. The senators brought up some Obama decisions they said hurt the state, and Trump asked Zinke after each one: "Can we change that and help Alaska?" The Alaska Dispatch News first reported the exchange after Sullivan mentioned it at a conference.

The president then raised another of Obama's Alaska decisions. "Wasn't the name of a big mountain in Alaska changed by executive order?" Trump asked, according to the newspaper. (Obama announced in 2015 the federal government was changing the name of Mount McKinley to Denali, the Native Alaska name for the peak.)

The president brought up the idea of changing the name back to Mount McKinley, named for a U.S. president who never visited the 49th state, and the senators quickly argued against it. "Lisa—Senator Murkowski—and I jumped over the desk. We said, 'No, no!'" said Sullivan, who was speaking at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Anchorage, the newspaper reported.

When the president asked, "Why?" Sullivan answered, "The Alaska Native people named that mountain over 10,000 years ago.… Denali, that was the name," according to the newspaper.

Trump Obama meeting
President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump shake hands during a transition planning meeting at the White House on November 10, 2016. JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty

Sullivan spokeswoman Karina Petersen and Murkowski spokesman Mike Anderson confirmed to Newsweek that Trump asked whether he should reverse the Obama administration decision to rename the mountain during the March 8 meeting.

While visiting Alaska in 2015, Obama announced his administration was scrapping the McKinley name and restoring the Athabascan name of Denali to the more than 20,000-foot mountain. "This designation recognizes the sacred status of Denali to generations of Alaska Natives," his office said in a statement announcing the change.

Trump, then just two months into his presidential campaign, reacted strongly. "President Obama wants to change the name of Mount McKinley to Denali after more than 100 years. Great insult to Ohio. I will change back!" he said in a tweet, referring to President William McKinley's home state.

Alaskans slammed Trump's tweets. "We wanted that change for a long time, and now we finally have it, and we need to leave it alone," Victor Joseph, president of Tanana Chiefs Conference, a consortium of 42 Athabascan tribes in Interior Alaska, told the Associated Press last year. "It was an insult to the first people of this land when they took away the name and gave it to somebody else."

Trump critics have argued the president is obsessed with Obama. CNN anchor Don Lemon raised the issue on air earlier this month, stating the Republican was "making it his mission to undo every last bit of the Obama legacy," while political analyst David Gergen replied that recent Trump decision were "more about blowing up the former president's legacy than anybody wants to admit."