Senate Republicans Block David Hayes's Confirmation as Deputy Interior Secretary

By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 14, 2009

On a vote largely along party lines, Senate Republicans yesterday blocked President Obama's nominee for deputy interior secretary amid a fight over the agency's new rules on oil and gas drilling. The administration appointee was the first to be turned back on a floor vote.

The nomination of David J. Hayes, a natural resources lawyer with experience in federal lands issues, fell just short of the 60 votes needed to cut off debate and move to a final vote. This was 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 F. Kerry (Mass.) and Barbara A. Mikulski (Md.).

At a news 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.

Republicans acknowledged beforehand that the vote was not a rejection of Hayes, who served for two years as deputy interior secretary in the Clinton administration; Republicans instead were making a statement of opposition to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's cancellation this year of leases for oil and gas drilling in Utah.

Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah) rallied the opposition to Hayes, suggesting that the eleventh-hour lease auction for drilling -- which happened with six weeks remaining in the Bush administration -- was 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 is unclear whether Reid will schedule another vote on Hayes when all Democrats can be present. If every senator votes as he or she first voted, Hayes will 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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