Senate Republicans Block Obama Nominee for Interior Post
By Paul Kane
Updated, 1:10 p.m. ET: At a press conference after the vote, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) vowed to bring the nomination back to the floor next week when all Democrats would be present. "With their votes next week, he will be approved," Durbin said.
On a party-line vote, Senate Republicans blocked President Obama's nominee to be deputy Interior secretary amid a fight over the agency's new rules on oil and gas drilling, the first administration appointee to be turned back on a floor vote.
The nomination of David J. Hayes, a natural resources lawyer with vast experience in federal lands issues, fell just short of the 60 votes needed to cut off debate and move to a final vote, only the second time this year that the GOP held together on a major action to block the president's agenda or his nominees on a filibuster vote.
Hayes received 57 votes, but he has more support than that. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) switched his vote to 'nay' in a parliamentary move that allows him to bring up the nomination again under fast-track rules should the administration reach an accord with Republicans. In addition, three Democrats who would support Hayes were absent -- Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.), John Kerry (Mass.) and Barbara Mikulski (Md.).
Republicans acknowledged beforehand that the vote was not a rejection of Hayes, who already served for two years as deputy interior secretary in the Clinton administration, but instead was a statement of opposition to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's cancellation earlier this year of leases for oil and gas drilling in Utah wild lands. Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) rallied the opposition to Hayes, suggesting that the eleventh-hour lease auction for drilling -- which happened with just six weeks remaining in the Bush administration -- was already agreed to and should have gone ahead as planned.
Salazar, who was in the Capitol lobbying his former Senate colleagues, called the GOP action "a tired vote of bitter obstructionism."
"We have answered every question and worked to find common ground on difficult issues, but the American people rightfully want change from the Obama administration and from the Department of the Interior. We will deliver that change," Salazar said in a statement.
Hayes won the support of two Republicans, Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Jon Kyl (Ariz.). Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) voted 'aye', with his new colleagues.
It's unclear whether Reid will schedule another vote on Hayes at a time when all Democrats can be present. If every senator voted as he or she first voted, Hayes would win 61 votes and be confirmed.
But that calculation relies on Kennedy, who is battling brain cancer and rarely votes, and Kyl, the No. 2 GOP leader who would come under intense party pressure to vote no if it meant the difference between Hayes winning confirmation or not.
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