Trump formally taps David Bernhardt to succeed Zinke at Interior

Trump formally taps David Bernhardt to succeed Zinke at Interior
© Bureau of Reclamation

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump mocks wind power: 'When the wind doesn't blow, just turn off the television' Pentagon investigator probing whether acting chief boosted former employer Boeing Trump blasts McCain, bemoans not getting 'thank you' for funeral 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 ZinkeOvernight Energy: EPA moves to raise ethanol levels in gasoline | Dems look to counter White House climate council | Zinke cleared of allegations tied to special election Zinke cleared of violating federal rules tied to Pennsylvania special election Overnight Energy: Trump unveils 2020 budget | Plan slashes funds for EPA, Interior and Energy | Interior request highlights border security MORE resigned under a cloud of ethics scandals.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 WarrenWarren, Klobuchar call on FTC to curtail use of non-compete clauses Pollster says 'it's certainly not looking good' for Trump ahead of 2020 Big Tech is not the enemy, Sen. Warren 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 MurkowskiRed dresses displayed around American Indian museum to memorialize missing, murdered native women Juan Williams: Don't rule out impeaching Trump The 25 Republicans who defied Trump on emergency declaration MORE (R-Alaska) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinManchin says he won't support LGBTQ protection bill as written Senators offer bipartisan bill to fix 'retail glitch' in GOP tax law Murkowski, Manchin call for 'responsible solutions' to climate change 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.