Week ahead: Controversial Interior nominee gets Senate vote

Week ahead: Controversial Interior nominee gets Senate vote
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Senators in the coming week will vote on David Bernhardt's nomination to be deputy secretary of the Interior Department, the last step in a process that has laid bare deep Democratic opposition to the nominee.

The Senate voted 56-39 to end debate on Bernhardt's nomination on Thursday. Seven Democrats joined Republicans in advancing Bernhardt, making it likely he'll secure confirmation when his nomination comes up on the floor Monday.

But Bernhardt has garnered intense opposition from many Democrats, who worry his career as an energy sector lobbyist raises conflicts of interest for the Interior Department's No. 2 post.

Bernhardt is the former chairman of the natural resources law practice at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, where he earned at least $1.1 million last year from the firm and lobbying contracts.

He has vowed to recuse himself from decisions involving former clients for at least one year. But some Democrats say that's not long enough, and public watchdog groups have asked for an investigation into whether he continued to lobby after working on President Trump's transition team.

"He will be making decisions on the same things he lobbied for," Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellDemocrats scramble to contain Franken fallout  FCC rolls back media regulations in move that critics say benefits Sinclair Steps Congress can take to save affordable housing in tax reform MORE (D-Wash.) said Thursday. "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."

Bernhardt has strong support among western state lawmakers, and he has earned backing from many key conservation groups.

"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," Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerSenate GOP running out of options to stop Moore Republicans see rising Dem odds in Alabama Cybersecurity pros take first peek at once secretive process behind US hacking toolkit MORE (R-Colo.) said in a Thursday floor speech.

On the other side of the Capitol, the House will vote on a defense-related spending package that includes the chamber's $37.6 billion energy and water spending bill.

The bill made its way into the defense package because it funds the Energy Department, which is charged with overseeing the nation's nuclear arsenal. The legislation cuts funding by $203 million, but it avoids the $3.4 billion cuts that President Trump had requested for the agencies it covers.

Many Democrats objected to the bill when the Appropriations Committee considered it earlier this month, but it still passed the committee on a voice vote. Senate appropriators approved a slightly larger energy and water spending bill on Thursday.

The House Natural Resources Committee will mark up 20 public lands bill in the coming week, and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hear testimony on an additional 15 bills.

The Senate Environment and Public Works committee will vote on a sportsman's bill. Biofuels allies had pushed to include an ethanol bill on that agenda, as well, but leadership says the measure doesn't have the votes it needs to pass.

The Department of Energy is still expected to release a key report on the electricity grid, a study that could come out before the end of the month. A draft version of the study that was leaked concluded that the deployment of renewable energy and government regulations have had less of an impact on electricity grid changes than falling demand and low natural gas prices.

Those conclusions are expected to change, but Energy Secretary Rick Perry says he doesn't know what the final version might look like. He told reporters Tuesday that he hadn't yet seen the report.

 

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