Senate advances controversial Trump Interior nominee

Senate advances controversial Trump Interior nominee
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The Senate voted Thursday to advance a controversial Trump Interior Department nominee, setting up a final confirmation vote early next week.

Senators voted 56-39 to end debate on David Bernhardt’s nomination to be deputy secretary of the Interior Department.

Democrats have raised concerns about Bernhardt’s nomination because of his experience in the George W. Bush Interior Department, where he was solicitor general, and his work in the private sector. Conservation groups have also split on his nomination.

Bernhardt, the former chairman of the natural resources law practice at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, earned at least $1.1 million last year from both the firm and lobbying work for more than a dozen energy and mining firms, according to his financial disclosure forms.

He has vowed to recuse himself from decisions involving his former clients for up to one year, but opponents of the nomination say his experience could still influence decisions he would make as the Interior Department’s No. 2 official.

“If he’s confirmed, he will oversee the same companies at the Department of Interior,” Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellOregon governor says Zinke told her offshore drilling isn’t ‘lucrative’ there Overnight Energy: Zinke grilled on travel, offshore drilling plans | Pruitt says California can't dictate emissions standard | Dems sound off on elephant trophy policy Zinke defends Florida offshore drilling exemption MORE (D-Wash.), the ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee, said on Thursday.

“That is, he will be making decisions on the same things he lobbied for. At the agency, he’ll be on the other side of the table, and after a short time, be able to make decisions in these areas.”

The Campaign for Accountability, a watchdog group, asked the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia on Thursday to investigate whether Bernhardt continued lobbying for a California water district even after withdrawing his lobbyist registration last year.

“I remain concerned about his record on behalf of these corporations at the expense of the environment, his tenure at the Department of Interior, and many other challenges,” Cantwell said.

No Republican voted against the procedural motion on Thursday, and seven Democrats voted to advance Bernhardt’s nomination.

In a floor speech, Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerTrump presses GOP to change Senate rules Republicans insist tax law will help in midterms The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Colo.) noted Bernhardt was confirmed unanimously to be solicitor of the Interior Department, the agency’s No. 3 post, in 2006, a precedent he hopes the Senate will follow now.

Gardner — who has known Bernhardt since the two interned for the same Colorado General Assembly member — highlighted Bernhardt’s work on water, natural resources and Native American issues, both at the Interior Department and in the private sector.

“His personal background and public and private professional experiences prove that he is a strong voice for the West, and extremely well-qualified for the nomination to be deputy secretary,” Gardner said.