Democrats push White House to oust head of public lands bureau

Democrats push White House to oust head of public lands bureau
© Greg Nash

Democrats and environmentalists on Wednesday continued their push to oust William Perry Pendley from leading the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), urging the White House to remove him from his post after his nomination to lead the agency was withdrawn.

The latest pushback from the Democrat-only panel comes as the Trump administration has struggled to justify keeping Pendley as the acting director of the BLM amid two lawsuits challenging his tenure and the derailment of his confirmation process.

Pendley, a controversial figure both for his history of opposing federal ownership of land and comments about the Black Lives Matter movement, has been in his post for more than a year through a series of different orders from the Department of the Interior.

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“Withdrawing the nomination was absolutely the right move,” Collin O’Mara, head of the National Wildlife Federation, said of the August announcement from the White House. 

“There aren't that many nominees that have been so egregious they've had to be pulled back out of the United States Senate for fear of the political consequences of their appointment," he added. "But the White House doesn't get to simply leave him in charge of the Bureau of Land Management."

Sens. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerOvernight Health Care: US coronavirus deaths hit 200,000 | Ginsburg's death puts future of ObamaCare at risk | Federal panel delays vote on initial COVID-19 vaccine distribution The Hill's Campaign Report: GOP set to ask SCOTUS to limit mail-in voting Senate GOP sees early Supreme Court vote as political booster shot MORE (R-Colo.) and Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesTrump seeks to turn around campaign with Supreme Court fight McConnell locks down key GOP votes in Supreme Court fight Will Republicans' rank hypocrisy hinder their rush to replace Ginsburg? MORE (R-Mont.), whose electoral survival is key to Republicans holding the Senate, had faced rising pressure on whether they would support Pendley.

While Democrats and outside groups were successful both in pushing for a formal nomination for Pendley and in sidelining his Senate confirmation, booting him from office may prove to be a tougher battle.

The two lawsuits challenging his role in the department are slowly working their way through the court system, arguing Pendley’s time in office violates the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.

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“He's holding the position illegally,” said House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who also called Pendley an extremist and an ideologue.

Pendley has penned books with titles such as “War on the West: Government Tyranny on America’s Great Frontier” and “Warriors for the West: Fighting Bureaucrats, Radical Groups, and Liberal Judges on America’s Frontier.” 

The Democratic Caucus has already asked the White House to remove Pendley from his role. Outside groups are also trying to apply pressure. The Western Values Project has launched a website dedicated to questioning Pendley’s record, complete with a clock counting how long he’s worked for the department.

Committee Republicans have expressed frustration with Democrats for holding panels outside the formal hearing system to tackle more partisan issues, a sentiment echoed by Interior.

“Chairman Grijalva and Vice Chair Deb HaalandDebra HaalandHispanic caucus report takes stock of accomplishments with eye toward 2021 Rep. Robin Kelly enters race for Democratic caucus vice chair OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats push resolution to battle climate change, sluggish economy and racial injustice | Senators reach compromise on greenhouse gas amendment stalling energy bill | Trump courts Florida voters with offshore drilling moratorium MORE’s fake, partisan ‘roundtable’ is nothing more than a political stunt and a waste of everyone’s time and the taxpayer’s dollars,” Interior spokesman Conner Swanson said by email.

The Trump administration has increasingly turned to public lands issues ahead of the election, with President TrumpDonald John TrumpOmar fires back at Trump over rally remarks: 'This is my country' Pelosi: Trump hurrying to fill SCOTUS seat so he can repeal ObamaCare Trump mocks Biden appearance, mask use ahead of first debate MORE boasting of signing legislation that would funnel money to conservation efforts and parks.

O’Mara, however, said Pendley is one piece of a larger poor record on environmental and conservation issues.

“[Interior] Secretary [David] Bernhardt needs to fire William Perry Pendley. It's that simple. And if he’s unwilling to do it, the White House needs to,” he said.

“Doing anything less shows they’re willing to talk the talk and kind of use the vibrato of Roosevelt's legacy. But they can't muster the courage to walk the walk," he continued. "And frankly, anything else is just unacceptable.”