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Democrats call for expedited hearing for Trump's public lands nominee

Democrats call for expedited hearing for Trump's public lands nominee
© Courtesy Department of Interior

A group of Democratic senators from Western states are pushing for an expedited hearing for a public lands nominee that they strongly oppose, saying that this will more quickly expose his record. 

The letter, spearheaded by Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDemocrats hesitant to raise taxes amid pandemic Jennifer Palmieri: 'Ever since I was aware of politics, I wanted to be in politics' Democrats in standoff over minimum wage MORE (D-Mont.), urged leaders of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to examine William Perry Pendley’s nomination as soon as possible. 

President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden to hold virtual bilateral meeting with Mexican president More than 300 charged in connection to Capitol riot Trump Jr.: There are 'plenty' of GOP incumbents who should be challenged MORE nominated Pendley to formally lead the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) last month, though Pendley has already been at the agency’s helm in an acting capacity for about a year. 

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His nomination was met with a torrent of opposition from conservationists, who argue that his past advocacy for selling all federal lands and significant ties to industry should disqualify him for the role. 

In the Tuesday letter, nine senators wrote to committee leaders asking them to “expedite a hearing and subsequent business meeting on the nomination of William Pendley.”

“After nearly a year as Acting Director, Mr. Pendley’s formal nomination is long overdue, and the public deserves the opportunity to hold him accountable for his record of undermining our public lands, clean water, and jobs that rely on both,” they wrote. “ We respectfully ask that you work with Mr. Pendley to hold a hearing as soon as you receive his paperwork so his record can be vetted before the American public.”

Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGraham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Senate ref axes minimum wage, House votes today on relief bill Republicans see Becerra as next target in confirmation wars MORE (R-Alaska) disagreed, arguing there was no need to "rush" a hearing. 

“Why rush a hearing when we already have two non-controversial nominees from ENR – Lanny Erdos and Mark Menezes – being held up on the Senate floor?" Murkowski told The Hill in a statement.

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"As with all nominees, the committee will conduct its due diligence, ensure we have received and vetted all relevant paperwork, and allow time for member meetings to take place before deciding when to hold a hearing," she said.

The senator didn't say when a hearing will take place, instead saying that committee members will be the first to know about the plans. 

Tester and Sen. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenDemocratic senator demands Rand Paul wear a mask on Senate floor Overnight Defense: New START extended for five years | Austin orders 'stand down' to tackle extremism | Panel recommends Biden delay Afghanistan withdrawal Senate approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee MORE (D-Nev.), who also signed the letter, expressed additional opposition to the nomination during a press call on Tuesday. 

“He has no business overseeing public lands he has spent his career working to undermine,” Tester said. “While I strongly oppose this nomination, I am pushing for the process to move as quickly as possible so that William Perry Pendley can be held accountable to the American public.”

However, the administration has backed Pendley, saying he has “worked to increase recreational opportunities on and access to our Nation’s public lands, heighten concern for the impact of wild horses and burros on public lands, and increase awareness of the Bureau’s multiple-use mission.”

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Pendley’s nomination to the position came as a surprise to public lands advocates who previously suspected Trump hadn’t nominated him because he wouldn’t get enough Republican support in the Senate.

It also comes amid a lawsuit over Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s repeated temporary extensions of Pendley's role as acting head of the bureau. The suit argues that it was illegal for the government to continue to keep Pendley in his temporary role for longer than the 210-day maximum set by the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. 

The administration has decried the suit as baseless. 

A second suit seeking to boot Pendley was filed Monday by Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockOvernight Health Care: CDC calls for schools to reopen with precautions | Cuomo faces rising scrutiny over COVID-19 nursing home deaths | Biden officials move to begin rescinding Medicaid work requirements Montana governor lifts state mask mandate Lobbying world MORE (D). It argued that federal law prohibits acting directors from serving while their nomination is pending.

Bureau of Land Management spokesperson Derrick Henry defended Pendley in a statement to The Hill.

"Mr. Pendley brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to his position at the Bureau of Land Management, and we look forward to working with the Senate on his confirmation,” Henry said.