Republicans signaled another tough confirmation battle Tuesday with their grilling of Tracy Stone-Manning, President Biden’s pick to head the Bureau of Land Management, and not just on her partisan past.
Ms. Stone-Manning was quizzed about a personal loan of between $50,000 and $100,000 that she obtained from a friend in 2008 at 6% interest, about half the market rate at the time, while she was working as regional director for Sen. Jon Tester, Montana Democrat.
“According to your disclosure, it looks like you received that at an interest rate of 6%, but the going rate for a consumer loan was 11%,” said Sen. Roger Marshall, Kansas Republican, at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing.
“Do you feel like that’s some type of a conflict of interest to take out a personal loan when you were working for a United States senator, and were you aware that the difference in the interest rate was significantly below the average?” Mr. Marshall asked.
He said that Ms. Stone-Manning did not finish repaying the loan until 2020. During that 12-year period, she also headed the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and served as chief of staff for Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat.
“Ethics are deeply important to me,” she replied. “Like many families in 2008, we got smacked by the recession, and a friend loaned us some money to make sure that we could get through it, and we came to terms and we honored the loan.”
She did not offer the name of the friend, but information from her ethics disclosure shared with The Washington Times showed that the lender was Stuart Goldberg.
No further information about the friend was provided, but there is a prominent Montana developer and Democratic donor named Stuart Goldberg who contributed $2,100 to Mr. Tester’s campaign in 2006, according to the Federal Election Commission.
The loan’s favorable terms raise questions about whether the transaction could be construed as a gift, and if so, whether Ms. Stone-Manning reported the deal to the Senate Ethics Committee as required for employees who receive gifts from friends exceeding $250.
The Interior Department, which oversees the agency, had no comment. Mr. Tester’s office said it had no record of the matter.
Introducing Ms. Stone-Manning was her former boss, Mr. Tester, who praised her as a listener and problem-solver well equipped to run the bureau, which administers 245 million acres of federal land and 700 million acres of subsurface minerals.
“Tracy is a proven leader with a track record of working across the aisle to get things done,” Mr. Tester said. “She is honest, she is driven by facts, not political ideology, she is adept at managing the needs of diverse interests, and I know she is a perfect choice to run the BLM.”
Meanwhile, Republicans had tough questions for Ms. Stone-Manning, fueling speculation that the committee may split or even report the nomination unfavorably, if the Democratic chairman, Sen. Joe Manchin III, votes against her.
Taking issue with Ms. Stone-Manning was Sen. John Barrasso, the ranking Republican, who described her as a threat to industries such as ranching, farming, logging and drilling that operate on BLM land as part of its multiple-use mandate.
Her resume includes stints at the National Wildlife Federation and Montana Conservation Voters — three decades ago, she was a spokesperson for the notorious tree-spiking collective Earth First — but Mr. Barrasso said that “perhaps most troubling is Ms. Stone-Manning’s unvarnished political partisanship.”
He cited a February tweet that quoted from an editorial blasting Republicans opposed to then-Rep. Deb Haaland’s nomination to head Interior as “nothing more than ‘a dog-whistle reserved for a candidate of Haaland’s tribal status — and gender.’”
During the 2020 election, she served as a board member and treasurer of the Montana Conservation Voters, which ran “political ads attacking Montana Sen. Steve Daines,” said Mr. Barrasso.
“Well, Montanans saw right through it, and so have I,” he said.
Mr. Tester objected to the characterization, telling Mr. Barrasso his comments “did not describe the person that I just talked about. This person listens, she works, she does the right thing.”
Ms. Stone-Manning downplayed her role with MCV, saying, “I was a voluntary board member who had a core belief of never micromanaging staff. I hope that you would look to my record in my day job on that issue and my approach to it.”
Asked about the Biden administration’s “pause” on oil-and-gas leasing on federal lands, she deferred to Mr. Biden and Ms. Haaland.
“I think the president and secretary have been clear that this leasing pause is giving the department time to take a hard look at the oil-and-gas program and make sure it is right for the century we’re living in,” said Ms. Stone-Manning.
As for the anti-Daines ads, she said that “elections can be tough. I was supporting my former boss, Gov. Bullock, but the election is over, and I will honor the outcome of that election.”
Even so, Sen. Bill Cassidy, Louisiana Republican, asked why GOP senators should vote for someone with her partisan history.
“You’ve been incredibly partisan in your past, including working actively against the candidacy of Sen. Daines. Theoretically, you’re going to work with Republicans in your office,” he said. “I see you have a prepared reply, you’re pulling that over. Can you speak from your heart? Because it seems like your heart is that you don’t particularly care for Republicans.”
Ms. Stone-Manning responded that “my parents are rolling in their graves, who are Republicans.
“I was raised in a Republican household. I live in a bipartisan landscape. I think that my career has shown that,” she said. “The only way to get things done in the country and specifically in the West is to work together. I have a demonstrated track record of doing that.”