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 John TrumpNew Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries Tucker Carlson ratchets up criticism of Duckworth, calls her a 'coward' Trump on Confederate flag: 'It's freedom of speech' 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 MurkowskiRomney, Collins, Murkowski won't attend GOP convention Senators will have access to intelligence on Russian bounties on US troops Overnight Defense: Lawmakers demand answers on reported Russian bounties for US troops deaths in Afghanistan | Defense bill amendments target Germany withdrawal, Pentagon program giving weapons to police 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: Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog | Ag secretary orders environmental rollbacks for Forest Service | Senate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog Overnight Energy: Trump officials may pursue offshore drilling after election, report says | Energy regulators to delay projects pending appeals | EPA union calls for 'moratorium' on reopening plans 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) ManchinGeorge Floyd and the upcoming Texas Democratic Senate runoff Energy companies cancel Atlantic Coast Pipeline Trump nominee faces Senate hurdles to securing public lands post 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 HeinrichThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Rodney Davis says most important thing White House can do on COVID-19 is give consistent messaging; US new cases surpass 50k for first time Overnight Defense: Navy won't reinstate fired captain | Dems probe use of federal officers in DC | Air Force appoints woman as top noncommissioned officer Dems request watchdog probe use of federal law enforcement in DC during Floyd protests MORE (D-N.M) and Angus KingAngus KingThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Reid Wilson says political winners are governors who listened to scientists and public health experts; 12 states record new highs for seven-day case averages McConnell on filibuster talk: Democrats want to 'vandalize' Senate rules Manchin draws line against repealing legislative filibuster 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 WydenOn The Money: Trump administration releases PPP loan data | Congress gears up for battle over expiring unemployment benefits | McConnell opens door to direct payments in next coronavirus bill Hillicon Valley: QAnon scores wins, creating GOP problem | Supreme Court upholds regulation banning robocalls to cellphones | Foreign hackers take aim at homebound Americans | Uber acquires Postmates Senate Democrats urge Pompeo to ensure Americans living overseas can vote in November 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.