Energy

Joe Manchin Signals Openness To Trump’s Interior Nominee

REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin took a different tone than many of his Democratic colleagues on news President Donald Trump nominated David Bernhardt to head the Interior Department.

While prominent Democrats immediately came out against Bernhardt’s nomination, Manchin stressed the Senate’s “obligation to advise [and] consent on the President’s nominees.” Trump announced Bernhardt’s nomination Monday. (RELATED: Trump Announces His Pick To Head The Interior Department)

Manchin is the ranking member on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which will hold Bernhardt’s confirmation hearings. Manchin’s openness to Bernhardt’s nomination could be a tepid sign of support.

Bernhardt, currently Interior’s acting secretary, doesn’t technically need Manchin’s support to secure his confirmation, but it would further secure it in case any Republicans defect. Manchin voted to confirm Bernhardt as Interior’s deputy secretary in 2017. He was one of four Senators to cross the aisle and vote with Republicans.

Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) greets supporters after campaigning for the 2018 midterm elections at his headquarters in Charlestown, West Virginia

Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) speaks to supporters after campaigning for the 2018 midterm elections at his headquarters in Charlestown, West Virginia, U.S., November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts.

Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Angus King of Maine, an Independent, also voted to confirm Bernhardt.

Donnelly and Heitkamp lost re-election bids in 2018. King sits on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

In contrast, some of Manchin’s Democratic colleagues on the Senate energy committee didn’t hold back their opposition to Bernhardt.

Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono called Bernhardt “another scandal-plagued fox guarding the henhouse.” Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden said, “Bernhardt has no place serving as the trustee of our most precious natural resources.” Both Hirono and Wyden serve on the Senate energy committee.

Environmentalists oppose Bernhardt’s nomination. Environmentalists say Bernhardt is a “walking conflict of interest” because of his past lobbying for companies that are regulated by or deal with Interior.

Others worry Bernhardt will be more effective at implementing Trump’s “energy dominance” agenda. Indeed, Bernhardt would not only see the rolling out of new offshore drilling plans but also plans to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to energy exploration.

Conservative groups and Republicans support Bernhardt’s nomination, seeing him as a qualified replacement for former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who left the Trump administration in January.

“It’s a brilliant move. No one is more experienced and I look forward to working with him,” Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Natural Resources, said in an emailed statement.

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