Energy & Environment

Senate panel approves Interior nominee over objections from Democrats

Getty Images

Senate Republicans advanced President Trump’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.

{mosads}Sen. Lisa Murkowski (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 Zinke, 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 Manchin (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 Heinrich (D-N.M) and Angus King (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 Wyden (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.

Tags Angus King Daniel Jorjani David Bernhardt Donald Trump Interior Joe Manchin Lisa Murkowski Mark Lee Greenblatt Martin Heinrich Ron Wyden Ryan Zinke
See all Hill.TV See all Video