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) TesterThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - At loggerheads, Congress, White House to let jobless payout lapse Overnight Defense: Senate poised to pass defense bill with requirement to change Confederate base names | Key senator backs Germany drawdown | Space Force chooses 'semper supra' as motto Democrats call for expedited hearing for Trump's public lands nominee 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 John TrumpWhite House sued over lack of sign language interpreters at coronavirus briefings Wife blames Trump, lack of masks for husband's coronavirus death in obit: 'May Karma find you all' Trump authorizes reduced funding for National Guard coronavirus response through 2020 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 Murkowski300 green groups say Senate has 'moral duty' to reject Trump's public lands nominee Senate GOP divided over whether they'd fill Supreme Court vacancy  On The Money: Unemployment benefits to expire as coronavirus talks deadlock | Meadows, Pelosi trade criticism on stalled stimulus talks | Coronavirus recession hits Social Security, Medicare, highway funding 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 RosenDemocrats call for expedited hearing for Trump's public lands nominee Democrats call for McConnell to bring Voting Rights Act to floor in honor of Lewis US lawmakers call on EU to label entire Hezbollah a terrorist organization 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.”

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 Bullock300 green groups say Senate has 'moral duty' to reject Trump's public lands nominee Lincoln Project targets Senate races in Alaska, Maine, Montana with M ad buy Exclusive: Poll shows pressure on vulnerable GOP senators to back state and local coronavirus aid 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.