Interior Secretary Deb Haaland didn’t exactly rush to the defense Tuesday of Bureau of Land Management nominee Tracy Stone-Manning.
At a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the fiscal year 2022 budget, Ms. Haaland sought to deflect Republican questions about Ms. Stone-Manning’s radical past by making it clear that the nominee to lead the agency was President Biden’s pick — not hers.
“I mean, yes, I am the secretary of the interior, but she is the president’s nominee,” Ms. Haaland said. “I mean, I didn’t nominate her. I am here to move the department forward on the president’s priorities, and that is what I’m focused on at the moment.”
Her response came after a barrage of questions from Republicans about Ms. Stone-Manning’s involvement in a 1989 tree-spiking plot in Idaho’s Clearwater National Forest as well as a comment from just last year about wildfires.
Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, asked about a September 2020 tweet in which Ms. Stone-Manning shared a 2018 article written by her husband, Richard Manning, that floated the idea of allowing wildfires to destroy houses in the wildland-urban interface, calling the piece a “clarion call.”
“Were you aware of public statements that Ms. Stone-Manning had made only months before her nomination calling for homes built in forests to burn in forest fires?” Mr. Lee asked.
Ms. Haaland replied: “I had not read any of that, senator.”
Before that, ranking member John Barrasso wanted to know if “individuals who plan or otherwise are involved in tree-spiking incidents and threaten the physical safety of federal officials” should be hired by the Interior Department.
“Senator, if I may, I believe you’re referring to the nominee, Tracy Stone-Manning,” said Ms. Haaland. “I also recognize that she was nominated by President Biden because he felt she could do the job and that she was qualified otherwise.”
Asked if she would hire someone who supported letting houses in the interface burn, Ms. Haaland replied that “I, as secretary of the interior, am not personally hiring anyone,”
“I believe that is a team effort, and I know that the Senate plays a very large role in any of these positions as well,” she said.
The exchanges demonstrated that Ms. Haaland has no inclination to take a political hit for Ms. Stone-Manning — and that Republicans have no intention of dropping the issue, even with the nominee poised to win Senate confirmation.
The committee split last week on her nomination in a 10-10 party-line vote, meaning that Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer must take the extra step of discharging the nomination out of committee, something he has already done for several of Mr. Biden’s picks, including Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.
A former activist with the radical environmental group Earth First!, Ms. Stone-Manning has admitted to editing, retyping and mailing in 1989 an anonymous letter to authorities warning of spiked trees in Idaho’s Clearwater National Forest, and later striking an immunity deal to testify against the perpetrators.
Ms. Stone-Manning has said that she mailed the letter to protest forestry workers from harm, while Republicans have criticized her for guarding the identities of the tree-spikers and accused her of lying on her sworn Senate questionnaire about being under federal investigation.
“Should individuals who are aware of spiked trees, in terms of national forests, should they immediately inform law enforcement?” asked Mr. Barrasso, Wyoming Republican.
Ms. Haaland replied: “I imagine that anyone should inform law enforcement if it’s a danger, sure.”
Democrats have defended Ms. Stone-Manning’s record of public service, which includes stints as a high-level staffer to Sen. Jon Tester, Montana Democrat, and former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.
The committee’s Democratic chairman, Sen. Joe Manchin III, who cast the pivotal vote in her favor, called her a “youthful sympathizer for the environment.” She was a graduate student at the University of Montana when the tree-spiking incident occurred.