Bernhardt confirmed to lead Interior with Murkowski, Sullivan's votes
Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has been formally confirmed to the post, with Alaska's U.S. senators voting yes Thursday on his permanent appointment.
Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan joined all Republicans in voting to confirm him as Ryan Zinke's successor on a 56-41 vote, according to The Hill. Bernhardt also drew support from three Democrats and Maine independent Sen. Angus King, The Hill reported.
Murkowski, who spoke on Bernhardt’s behalf before the vote, congratulated him afterward in a statement.
“He has what it takes to lead this Department — coming from the west, he understands our public lands, has more experience at the Department than all but one of his predecessors, and has extensive knowledge of the issues that will come before him,” Murkowski said. “David Bernhardt has proven to be a strong partner not only for Alaska, but states all across the country. I’m pleased to continue working with him and his team on a wide range of energy, lands, and water-related issues.”
Sullivan also congratulated Bernhardt in remarks following the vote, telling Vice President Mike Pence in his role as Senate president that Bernhardt is uniquely well-positioned to manage more than 200 million acres of Alaska land under Interior control.
"Certainly with regard to Alaska, sometimes secretaries of Interior understand our state and that we're different and unique, and federal laws passed by this body say so," Sullivan said. "And other secretaries of Interior don't, and they don't understand that in Alaska you have to balance conservation with resource development and economic opportunity. But, Mr. President, Secretary Bernhardt does; he understands this, and this is refreshing."
According to the Associated Press, Bernhardt's previous employment as a lobbyist representing energy and agricultural industries has drawn criticism from Democrats and others who claim he has used his federal position to benefit former industry clients.
The Center for Western Priorities, an environmental group, alluded to that work in a statement criticizing Bernhardt's confirmation.
“If this was the Department of Oil and Gas Drilling, David Bernhardt would be the perfect candidate for the job," said the center's deputy director, Aaron Weiss. "But as deputy Interior secretary, Bernhardt proved over and over again that he will always put his former clients’ wishes ahead of the needs of America’s public lands."
The AP reported that Bernhardt was named as deputy secretary in April 2017.
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