Utah senator threatens hold on Interior deputy nominee

Republican Robert Bennett says he wants to speak to David Hayes and Secretary Ken Salazar about oil and gas leases in his state.

Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, is threatening to hold up the nomination of the Interior Department's second-in-command to get more answers on why the Obama administration canceled oil and gas leases in his state.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday approved the nomination of David Hayes to be deputy Interior secretary, 17-5.

Bennett afterward said he will put a hold on the nomination until he sits down with Hayes and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar about those leases.

"We've been trying to get an appointment with them; I think maybe now they'll give us one," Bennett said after the vote. An Interior spokesman said Salazar and Hayes "are looking forward to talking to Sen. Bennett about his concerns."

Bennett was joined by Republican Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, John Barrasso of Wyoming, James Risch of Idaho, and Jim Bunning of Kentucky in voting against Hayes' nomination. Sessions afterward said Hayes should eventually be confirmed. "I'd like the president to get who he wants. But if you're not going to respond to a respected senator's questions then I think that is a basis for slowing this thing down," Sessions said. Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who voted to move his nomination out of the committee, said Hayes needs to better explain the administration's decision before his nomination goes forward.

"It could be that we see his nomination held up until there is a response that is a satisfactory response," she said. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., also suggested she might vote against his nomination on the floor. "I think his nomination will go forward, but I do think that Sen. Bennett has some legitimate concerns," she said. "Democrats and Republicans alike will not allow any backward movement ... on domestic production onshore and offshore."

Hayes sent a letter to Bennett Wednesday morning trying to further clarify an initial response he gave the Utah Republican regarding coordination between the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service on the Utah lease sale. After initially telling Bennett that BLM did not coordinate with the park service regarding the sale of leases near park service properties, Hayes said he followed up with acting National Park Service Director Dan Wenk, who told him that the two agencies had discussions after the sale was announced. The result of the talks was that some proposed leases were withheld by BLM for sale. Hayes pledged in the letter to be involved in a review that Salazar has promised to conduct on those lease sales.

Bennett said he is not convinced. The letter Wednesday from Hayes "gave me no indication whatsoever that the review of the secretary will be in any way substantive," Bennett said. "I do not believe that we have been assured that there will be an honest review." Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who raised questions over Hayes' previous lobbying jobs and comments regarding former President Ronald Reagan, ended up voting for his nomination. Hayes mentioned Reagan in a 2006 article for the Progressive Policy Institute criticizing Western conservatives for backing logging, mining and drilling without restrictions. McCain said he was offended by the "derogatory remarks" and questioned whether President Obama is breaking a campaign pledge on hiring former lobbyists in his administration. Hayes has not been a lobbyist for two years. He had a previous run as Interior deputy secretary at the tail end of the Clinton administration from 1999 to 2001 before joining the lobbying world.