GOP Blocks Interior Deputy Pick in Dispute over Oil, Gas Leases
The 57-39 vote was three short of the 60 needed to advance David Hayes past Republican objections, and made him the first of Obama's top-level nominees to be sidetracked on the Senate floor.
Hayes, an environmental lawyer picked by Obama to serve as deputy secretary of the Interior Department, held the same post during the last three years of the Clinton administration. He also led Obama's natural resources transition team, responsible for naming a new Interior Department head.
Republican opposition to Hayes' nomination was led by Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah, who expressed anger over Secretary Ken Salazar's recent decision to revoke 77 oil and gas leases in his state. He was joined by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who raised questions about the administration's plans for oil and gas development and objected to recent reversals of several Bush-era rules on endangered species and mountaintop mining.
"It may be uncomfortable for some to watch us have to clean up mess after mess - from corruption to lawbreaking - that is the previous administration's legacy at Interior, but to cast a vote against such a qualified and fine person is the height of cynicism," Salazar said in a statement following the vote.
Rodell Mollineau, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Democrats would make a second attempt to gain 60 votes at a future date to be determined. Three Democrats, Sens. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland as well as John Kerry and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, did not vote. Their presence would have left Hayes with 60 votes, the total needed to overcome GOP objections.
Robert Dillon, a spokesman for Murkowski, said the Alaska lawmaker hoped the disagreements could be worked out, which would presumably clear the way for swift confirmation.
At a news conference after the vote, Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., said Republicans had engaged in "classic hostage taking," holding up Hayes in a dispute over a "tangential issue."
Hayes won the support of all Democrats who voted except for Reid, who switched to opposition at the last moment as part of a procedural move that enabled him to call for a later revote. Independent Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut as well as Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe of Maine and Jon Kyl of Arizona also backed confirmation.