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Senate panel approves Interior nominee over objections from Democrats

Senate panel approves Interior nominee over objections from Democrats
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Senate Republicans advanced President TrumpDonald TrumpDC goes to the dogs — Major and Champ, that is Biden on refugee cap: 'We couldn't do two things at once' Taylor Greene defends 'America First' effort, pushes back on critics MORE's nominee to be the Interior Department's top lawyer on Tuesday over objections from Democrats who called him partisan and unresponsive to ethics questions swirling around the department's secretary and his predecessor.

The Senate Natural Resources Committee advanced Daniel Jorjani’s nomination in a party-line vote, and also moved for the nomination of Mark Lee Greenblatt to lead the Department’s Office of the Inspector General.

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Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiRepublicans who backed Trump impeachment see fundraising boost Moderates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring MORE (R-Alaska), who chairs the committee, praised both nominees as qualified for their roles.

Republicans have a 53-47 majority in the Senate and Jorjani looks like he will be confirmed, though he may not get a single Democratic vote. 

Jorjani, who has been acting as the department’s solicitor, has been criticized for his work advising both Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeGreitens Senate bid creates headache for GOP Missouri Senate candidate Eric Greitens tangles with Hugh Hewitt in testy interview Overnight Energy: Interior finalizes plan to open 80 percent of Alaska petroleum reserve to drilling | Justice Department lawyers acknowledge presidential transition in court filing | Trump admin pushes for permits for men who inspired Bundy standoff MORE, who was replaced by Bernhardt after leaving under an ethical cloud. He's also facing criticism for his role in reviewing public records requests sent to the department.

Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinGOP acknowledges struggle to bring down Biden On The Money: Moderates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats | Justice Dept. sues Trump ally Roger Stone for unpaid taxes Moderates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats MORE (W.Va.), the panel's ranking Democrat, opposed his nomination on Tuesday.

“The solicitor must uphold the law above all else about, above party politics and ideology. That was not the sense I got,” about Jorjani, said Manchin.

Manchin said he’s inclined to approve most nominees so long as they are qualified and ethical, but he was concerned that Jorjani showed a disregard for congressional intent.

“It concerns me Mr. Jorjani has spent the past two years he served as acting solicitor overturning prior interpretations of our public lands laws in a manner that is out of step with the congressional intent,” he said.

In addition to Manchin, Sens. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichDemocrats battle over best path for Puerto Rico Intelligence leaders warn of threats from China, domestic terrorism Top academics slam Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act MORE (D-N.M) and Angus KingAngus KingNew US sanctions further chill Biden-Putin relations Schumer lays groundwork for future filibuster reform Bipartisan lawmakers signal support for Biden cybersecurity picks MORE (I-Maine) both supported Bernhardt but voted against Jorjani.

Democratic attorneys general previously sued the department after a memo from Jorjani helped roll back protections for migratory birds.

In a written response to Manchin, Jorjani said “while legal precedent is given considerable weight in American jurisprudence, it is not irrefutable.”

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenGOP senator: Raising corporate taxes is a 'non-starter' Democrats get good news from IRS IRS chief warns of unpaid taxes hitting trillion MORE (D-Ore.) said Jorjani gave insufficient responses to his questions. In his written responses, Jorjani repeatedly refers Wyden to the department’s Office of Congressional Affairs.

“I cannot a recall a nominee ever coming through this committee and responding to my requests for information by telling me to go ask somebody else,” Wyden said, adding that Jorjani would require “some pretty rigorous oversight” from the committee.

Manchin said Wyden’s questions “lacked the response it deserved” from Jorjani, who sidestepped questions about the department’s public records office and whether they had missed litigation deadlines for producing documents.

Greenblatt, if confirmed by the full Senate, would have his plate full with investigations into a number of alleged ethical lapses by Zinke and other former or current Interior officials.

Greenblatt’s nomination was approved with a swift voice vote. He currently serves as the assistant inspector general for investigations at the Department of Commerce.