- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 14, 2009

Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked President Obama’s nomination for the No. 2 post at the Interior Department, the latest in a series of partisan clashes over personnel as the White House tries to advance its ambitious agenda.

The opposition to confirming David Hayes as deputy interior secretary was led by Republican Sen. Robert F. Bennett, who vowed to derail the nomination in retaliation for the Interior Department’s decision to cancel lucrative oil- and gas-drilling leases near several national parks in his home state of Utah.

Mr. Bennett said the leases were voided based on false data and that the department refused to answer questions about the review process.

“I want to do everything I can to confirm Mr. Hayes expeditiously, but it does not mean that I should give up my rights to get clear answers to my questions,” he said. “The real obstruction is coming from [the Department of the Interior] and its unwillingness, despite commitments made, to answer direct questions from Republicans.”

The nomination stalled on a near party-line 57-39 vote, as Democrats came up three votes short of the 60 needed to end a Republican filibuster.

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said the Hayes vote was another example of how Republicans have become “the party of no.”

He said Republican holds on nominations — there are currently 18 nominations held up by Republican objections — reflect the minority party’s commitment to restoring Bush administration policies and impeding Mr. Obama from assembling his team.

“They long for those good old days under President George W. Bush,” Mr. Durbin said. “They are going to resist change, resist this president, hold up as many people as they can - [people] that he needs to be a success.”

The confirmation logjam includes the nomination of Cameron Kerry, the brother of Democrat Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, for Commerce Department counsel. The nomination was blocked by an anonymous “hold,” a parliamentary procedure that allows any one senator to prevent matters from reaching the Senate floor.

The nomination of Dawn Johnsen to lead the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel is being blocked by Republicans who object to the lawyer’s pro-choice political record, including a Supreme Court brief in which Ms. Johnsen equated forced pregnancy with “involuntary servitude.”

In the Hayes vote, Republican Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine voted for confirmation, while three Democrats missed the vote: Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland as well as Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry, both of Massachusetts.

Mr. Kennedy, ill with brain cancer, has been absent for much of the session. The reasons Miss Mikulski and Mr. Kerry skipped the vote were not clear.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, switched his vote to “no” in a tactical move that preserved his ability to schedule another vote at a later time.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who until this year was a member of the Senate from Colorado, called the outcome “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,” Mr. Salazar said. “We will deliver that change.”

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