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Durbin blocks Interior nominees from confirmation

Durbin blocks Interior nominees from confirmation
© Greg Nash

Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - COVID-19 fears surround Thanksgiving holiday Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight Whitehouse says Democratic caucus will decide future of Judiciary Committee MORE (D-Ill.) has put a hold on all four pending Interior Department nominees over the Trump administration’s plans to potentially shrink multiple national monuments.

Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, disclosed his hold Wednesday in a letter to the Interior Department, after Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior shortlist puts focus on New Mexico lawmakers | Progressives criticize Biden transition over volunteer who represented Exxon | Trump DOJ appointees stalled investigation into Zinke: report Trump DOJ appointees stalled investigation into Zinke: report GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte wins Montana governor's race MORE sent a public letter complaining about the confirmation process.

Durbin and three other Democrats on Oct. 23 asked for a meeting with Zinke about the secretary's recommendations to President Trump to shrink national monuments. Such a meeting has not yet been held or scheduled. 

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The administration has not yet released the recommendations publicly, although The Washington Post reported that Zinke wants four monuments reduced in size and management changes at numerous other ones.

Democrats and environmentalists have fought the review of national monuments tooth and nail, arguing that any reductions in protected areas would be harmful. 

“Please let the secretary know that while my colleagues and I await his scheduling decision, my hold on Department of Interior nominees will continue,” Durbin wrote to Micah Chambers, head of the Interior’s congressional relations office.

Earlier Wednesday, Zinke demanded “immediate action” from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden's climate plans can cut emissions and also be good politics Acting Defense secretary makes surprise trip to Somalia As Biden administration ramps up, Trump legal effort drags on MORE (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Voters say Biden should make coronavirus vaccine a priority: poll New York City subway service could be slashed 40 percent, officials warn MORE (D-N.Y.) on four pending nominees.

“These nominees have been forced to wait significantly longer than either the Obama or Bush administration’s first-term nominees,” Zinke wrote.

The nominees at issue are Brenda Burman to lead the Bureau of Reclamation; Susan Combs to be assistant secretary for policy, management and budget; Joseph Balash to be assistant secretary for land and mineral management; and Ryan Nelson to be solicitor.

Each passed through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee with nearly unanimous support in August or September, before the Democrats’ national monuments letter.

Besides Zinke, Interior has only two Senate-confirmed official in place: Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt and Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs Doug Domenech.

In the Senate, a hold means that McConnell cannot expedite the process for a full Senate confirmation vote. Senators do not need to disclose when they institute holds.

It's possible other senators have holds on the nominees, but so far Durbin is the only senator to disclose a hold.