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 TrumpTed Cruz knocks New York Times for 'stunning' correction on Kavanaugh report US service member killed in Afghanistan Pro-Trump website edited British reality star's picture to show him wearing Trump hat 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 ZinkeThe Hill's Morning Report - Gillibrand drops out as number of debaters shrinks BLM issues final plan for reduced Utah monument New policy at Interior's in-house watchdog clamps down on interactions with press 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 WarrenThe Hill's 12:30 Report: NY Times story sparks new firestorm over Kavanaugh Working Families Party endorses Warren after backing Sanders in 2016 Warren proposes new restrictions, taxes on lobbying 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 Murkowski The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Overnight Energy: Trump administration to repeal waterway protections| House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge| Administration takes key step to open Alaskan refuge to drilling by end of year Overnight Health Care: Juul's lobbying efforts fall short as Trump moves to ban flavored e-cigarettes | Facebook removes fact check from anti-abortion video after criticism | Poll: Most Democrats want presidential candidate who would build on ObamaCare MORE (R-Alaska) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) Manchin The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Trump, lawmakers consider app that would conduct background checks: report Conservatives offer stark warning to Trump, GOP on background checks 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.