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 TrumpFormer Joint Chiefs chairman: 'The last thing in the world we need right now is a war with Iran' Pence: 'We're not convinced' downing of drone was 'authorized at the highest levels' Trump: Bolton would take on the whole world at one time 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 MurkowskiGOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks Overnight Defense: Officials brief Congress after Iran shoots down drone | Lawmakers fear 'grave situation' | Trump warns Iran | Senate votes to block Saudi arms sales | Bombshell confession at Navy SEAL's murder trial The 7 GOP senators who voted to block all or part of Trump's Saudi arms sale 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 ZinkeExclusive: Trump administration delayed releasing documents related to Yellowstone superintendent's firing Trump's order to trim science advisory panels sparks outrage Conserving wildlife migrations starts with listening to landowners 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) ManchinRepublicans, Trump Jr. signal support for embattled West Virginia governor Critics say Interior's top lawyer came 'close to perjury' during Hill testimony The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Trump takes heat for remarks on help from foreign governments 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 HeinrichOvernight Energy: Democrats ask if EPA chief misled on vehicle emissions | Dem senators want NBC debate focused on climate change | 2020 hopeful John Delaney unveils T climate plan Democratic senators want NBC primary debate to focus on climate change Collins offering bill to boost battery research as GOP pushes energy 'innovation' MORE (D-N.M) and Angus KingAngus Stanley KingSenator takes spontaneous roadtrip with strangers after canceled flight On The Money: Economy adds 75K jobs in May | GOP senator warns tariffs will wipe out tax cuts | Trump says 'good chance' of deal with Mexico Trump administration appeals ruling that blocked offshore Arctic drilling 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 WydenOvernight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record Grassley announces opposition to key Trump proposal to lower drug prices Exclusive: Trump administration delayed releasing documents related to Yellowstone superintendent's firing 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.