Trump pick for Interior heads toward Senate confirmation

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump anti-reg push likely to end up in court Biden set to make risky economic argument against Trump Hillicon Valley: Tech companies lead way on WFH forever | States and counties plead for cybersecurity assistance | Trump weighing anti-conservative bias panel MORE’s nominee to take over as head of the Interior Department cleared his first hurdle Thursday, winning approval from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in a 14-6 vote.

Democratic Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinStakes high for Collins in coronavirus relief standoff The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Surgeon General stresses need to invest much more in public health infrastructure, during and after COVID-19; Fauci hopeful vaccine could be deployed in December Congress headed toward unemployment showdown MORE (W.Va.) and Sen. Angus KingAngus KingMemorial Day weekend deals latest economic blow to travel industry Bipartisan senators introduce bill to make changes to the Paycheck Protection Program Senators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day MORE (I-Maine) joined the panel's Republicans in backing David Bernhardt's nomination.

ADVERTISEMENT

“He’s clearly qualified and has the experience to serve as secretary," Manchin said at the vote. "He knows the Interior inside and out, that may be a blessing to some and may be a concern to others. Based on the assurances he has given, I’m prepared to vote on him this morning.”

Bernhardt needs support from only a majority of senators in a floor vote to be confirmed as Interior's next secretary.

Committee Chairwoman Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiRepublicans push for help for renewable energy, fossil fuel industries The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Mnuchin: More COVID-19 congressional action ahead Senators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day MORE (R-Alaska) called Bernhardt “well qualified” for the position.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Tech companies lead way on WFH forever | States and counties plead for cybersecurity assistance | Trump weighing anti-conservative bias panel House to consider amendment blocking warrantless web browsing surveillance COVID-19 increases importance of implementing reforms to organ donation system MORE (D-Ore.), however, argued Bernhardt's ties to energy interests would make him no better than his predecessor, Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: Biden campaign says he would revoke Keystone XL permit | EPA emails reveal talks between Trump officials, chemical group before 2017 settlement | Tensions emerge on Natural Resources panel over virtual meetings Ex-Interior chief rips attacks, says being a billionaire 'can't be a prerequisite' for public office The case for transferring federal lands back to Native Americans MORE, who left the department amid a series of controversies.

“Every single senator should be interested in restoring honor and integrity to the office of the Interior secretary. Unfortunately, the Bernhardt nomination … doesn’t even come close,” Wyden said.

During last week’s confirmation hearing for Bernhardt, Wyden criticized what he called the former energy lobbyist’s long list of conflicts of interest. Bernhardt carries with him a card listing the names of all companies that would pose a conflict to his government work.

“I think you are so conflicted. I think that even if you are confirmed you will have to disqualify yourself from so many matters I don't know how you will spend your day," Wyden said last week.

As Interior chief, Bernhardt would have to recuse himself from meetings with those companies if they have business before the agency.

Wyden also raised concerns at the confirmation hearing about a report that Bernhardt intervened as deputy secretary in the release of a Fish and Wildlife Service report that found two pesticides were likely deadly to several endangered species.

Bernhardt last week told senators he had made the decision to not release the findings after consulting with lawyers.

The committee also voted on the nomination of Susan Combs to serve as assistant secretary of the Interior in the Office of Policy, Management and Budget. She was previously appointed by Trump to serve as acting assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks.

Wyden and Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoConservative group launches campaign accusing Democrats of hypocrisy on Kavanuagh, Biden Hillicon Valley: Commerce announces new Huawei restrictions | Russian meddling report round five | Google's ad business in spotlight Democratic senators urge Facebook to curb coronavirus misinformation in other languages MORE (D-Hawaii) were the only two senators to vote against her nomination proceeding to the Senate floor.

Combs has angered some environmentalists with her remarks concerning Endangered Species Act protections, which she once likened to “incoming Scud missiles.”

Updated at 12:27 p.m.