The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted to move David Bernhardt’s nomination to lead the Interior Department in front of the full Senate Thursday morning.
The committee approved Bernhardt’s nomination in a 14 to 6 vote despite concerns by some Democrats. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine joined the committee’s Republicans to advance Bernhardt’s nomination.
Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon called for the committee to delay Bernhardt’s vote Wednesday over allegations that Bernhardt, currently the acting Interior secretary, interfered with an environmental assessment of proposed changes to federal and state water policy. The Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General is reviewing the allegations.
The Interior Department’s chief ethics official Scott de la Vega has cleared Bernhardt of any misconduct related to the environmental assessment. Bernhardt testified in front of the committee March 28 that he delayed publishing the report to put it through a legal review.
Allegations of misconduct and conflicts of interest have hounded Bernhardt’s nomination process.
“I think it’s very clear you have well-funded groups that are working hard, working energetically against his nomination,” GOP Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the committee, said ahead of the vote, according to Reuters.
The Western Values Project, a group campaigning against Bernhardt’s nomination, called the committee vote to advance the “conflict-ridden” Bernhardt nomination a “mistake.”
“It’s no surprise that a group of Senators who owe so much to special interest lobbyists would support this choice for Interior Secretary,” Western Values Project Director Chris Saeger said in a statement. “For the last two years, conflict-ridden David Bernhardt has tipped the scales in favor of former clients, likely violating his ethics pledge and responsibilities to the American people.”
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