Senate panel approves Interior nominee over objections from Democrats

Senate panel approves Interior nominee over objections from Democrats
© Getty Images

Senate Republicans advanced President TrumpDonald John TrumpFlorida GOP lawmaker says he's 'thinking' about impeachment Democrats introduce 'THUG Act' to block funding for G-7 at Trump resort Kurdish group PKK pens open letter rebuking Trump's comparison to ISIS 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pence says Turkey agrees to ceasefire | Senators vow to move forward with Turkey sanctions | Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe On The Money: Senate fails to override Trump veto over border emergency | Trump resort to host G-7 next year | Senators to push Turkey sanctions despite ceasefire | McConnell tees up funding votes Senate fails to override Trump veto over emergency declaration 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 ZinkeOvernight Energy: Perry to step down as Energy secretary | Future of big-game hunting council up in the air | Dems lose vote against EPA power plant rule Future of controversial international hunting council up in the air Overnight Energy: Advisory panel pushes park service to privatize campgrounds | Dems urge Perry to keep lightbulb efficiency rules | Marshall Islands declares national climate crisis 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 ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Energy: Perry to step down as Energy secretary | Future of big-game hunting council up in the air | Dems lose vote against EPA power plant rule Senate Dems lose forced vote against EPA power plant rule Schumer seeks focus on health care amid impeachment fever 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 HeinrichSenate confirms Trump's Air Force secretary pick Commerce Department to develop stats on income inequality Senators take fundraising efforts to Nats playoff games MORE (D-N.M) and Angus KingAngus Stanley KingSenators fear Syria damage 'irreversible' after Esper, Milley briefing Overnight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine Democrats grill Army, Air Force nominees on military funding for border wall 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 WydenHillicon Valley: GOP lawmakers offer election security measure | FTC Dem worries government is 'captured' by Big Tech | Lawmakers condemn Apple over Hong Kong censorship Lawmakers condemn Apple, Activision Blizzard over censorship of Hong Kong protesters Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg defends handling of misinformation in political ads | Biden camp hits Zuckerberg over remarks | Dem bill would jail tech execs for lying about privacy | Consumer safety agency accidentally disclosed personal data 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.