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 TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe 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 ZinkeWant to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Biden launches blitz for jobs plan with 'thank you, Georgia' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court sets in motion EPA ban on pesticide linked to developmental issues | Trump Interior Secretary Zinke files to run for Congress, again | Senate passes bipartisan B water infrastructure bill 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 Warren11 senators urge House to pass .5T package before infrastructure bill Senate Democrats seeking information from SPACs, questioning 'misaligned incentives' UN secretary-general blasts space tourism 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 MurkowskiGOP warns McConnell won't blink on debt cliff Graham tries to help Trump and McConnell bury the hatchet Trump, allies launch onslaught as midterms kick into gear MORE (R-Alaska) and Joe ManchinJoe ManchinManchin fires warning shot on plan to expand Medicare Panic begins to creep into Democratic talks on Biden agenda Enhanced infrastructure plan is the best way to go 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.