Trump formally taps David Bernhardt to succeed Zinke at Interior

Trump formally taps David Bernhardt to succeed Zinke at Interior
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders apologizes to Biden for supporter's op-ed Jayapal: 'We will end up with another Trump' if the US doesn't elect progressive Democrats: McConnell impeachment trial rules a 'cover up,' 'national disgrace' MORE on Friday formally tapped Interior Department acting Secretary David Bernhardt to helm the agency on a permanent basis.

Bernhardt has been leading the agency in an acting capacity since December, when former Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeEurope deepens energy dependence on Russia Overnight Energy: House Science Committee hits EPA with subpoenas | California sues EPA over Trump revoking emissions waiver | Interior disbands board that floated privatization at national parks Interior disbands advisory board that floated privatization at national parks MORE resigned under a cloud of ethics scandals.

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Trump first said he would tap Bernhardt for the role last month.

“David has done a fantastic job from the day he arrived, and we look forward to having his nomination officially confirmed!” the president tweeted.

“It’s a humbling privilege to be nominated to lead a department whose mission I love, to accomplish the balanced, common sense vision of our President,” Bernhardt said in a statement at the time.

The White House highlighted in its announcement Friday that the Senate already confirmed Bernhardt twice as deputy secretary and as the agency’s solicitor under the George W. Bush administration.

The nominee will likely face Democratic opposition over his past career as an oil lobbyist and strong stance against environmental and wildlife protections. Agency ethics standards mandated he recuse himself from matters involving former clients. That list runs so long he carries a card with him listing the recusals. 

Having served as deputy Interior secretary under Zinke, Bernhardt took the lead on several agency initiatives, including rolling back the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and ramping up efforts to start oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He is expected to continue many of Zinke’s policies while trying to prevent his tenure from being swallowed by ethics allegations. 

However, Democrats appear to be poised to keep up pressure on Bernhardt, after Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenJayapal: 'We will end up with another Trump' if the US doesn't elect progressive Former health insurance executive: Current system is bankrupting country The American disease and death bowls MORE (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) called for an Inspector General probe into his reported efforts to further scale back wildlife protections. He had previously called the ESA an “unnecessary regulatory burden.”

The announcement of his nomination last month drew the rebuke of several environmentalist groups, though his ultimate confirmation appears likely.

He will first appear before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for an initial hearing, where Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiJuan Williams: Counting the votes to remove Trump Roberts under pressure from both sides in witness fight Murkowski wants senators to 'really hear the case' before deciding on impeachment witnesses MORE (R-Alaska) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump's trial a major test for McConnell, Schumer Poll: West Virginia voters would view Manchin negatively if he votes to convict Trump Pelosi set to send impeachment articles to the Senate next week MORE (D-W.Va.), the panel’s chairwoman and ranking member, both voted to confirm him to the deputy position. His approval by the entire Senate seems probable as Republicans hold a majority.