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 TrumpTrump: 'I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons' Rocket attack hits Baghdad's Green Zone amid escalating tensions: reports Buttigieg on Trump tweets: 'I don't care' 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 ZinkeInterior's border surge puts more officers in unfamiliar role Not 'if' but 'when' is the next Deepwater Horizon spill? Former Wyoming GOP lawmaker mulling Senate bid to replace Enzi 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 WarrenButtigieg jokes about holding town hall same night as 'Game of Thrones' finale Buttigieg defends appearing on Fox News: Many Americans don't hear Dems' message Warren offers to help Twitter user with her love life 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 MurkowskiOvernight Health Care — Presented by Campaign for Accountability — House passes drug pricing bills amid ObamaCare row | Senate Republicans running away from Alabama abortion law | Ocasio-Cortez confronts CEO over K drug price tag Senate Republicans running away from Alabama abortion law Bipartisan senators unveil measure to end surprise medical bills MORE (R-Alaska) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinLabor head warns of 'frightening uptick' in black lung disease among miners Labor leader: Trump has stopped erosion of coal jobs Overnight Energy: States fight Trump rollback of Obama lightbulb rules | Greens seek hearing over proposed rule on energy efficiency tests | Top Dem asks GAO to investigate climate threat 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.