Senate GOP Blocks Obama Nominee for First Time

Senate Republicans united in opposition Wednesday against David Hayes to be the next deputy secretary of the Interior Department, the No. 2 post, a position he previously held in the Clinton administration.

Democrats needed 60 votes to confirm him, but the vote was 57-39.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said after the vote that Republicans were obstructing Obama administration change.

"This was a tired vote of bitter obstructionism.  It may be uncomfortable for some to watch us have to clean up mess after mess -- from corruption to lawbreaking -- that is the previous administration's legacy at Interior, but to cast a vote against such a qualified and fine person is the height of cynicism," he said.  

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said before the vote that if Hayes, an environmental lawyer, is denied confirmation on Wednesday, he will get another vote in the future, assuming Al Franken fills the disputed Minnesota Democratic Senate seat.

"David Hayes will be confirmed. If I have to wait till Al Franken comes, we're going to confirm him. If we lose today, I'll just move to reconsider," Reid said. As a matter of procedure, Reid had to change his vote from yes to no in order to bring the nominatino back up for a vote later.

Though Republicans are close to unified against a handful of Obama nominees for their stands on various positions, this one has more to do with the administration's overall oil and gas lease policy than the actual nominee.

Salazar, in one of his first acts, cancelled 77 oil and gas leases in Utah that were awarded in the waning days of the Bush administration, prompting Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, to lead the charge against the nominee.

At the time, Salazar expressed concern that the thousands of acres open to exploration were too close to national parks.

In a letter to Bennett dated Tuesday, Salazar, a former senator from Colorado, told Bennett that he would undertake a review to determine how to resolve federal law violations found by the United States District Court on those parcels.

He also offered to send Hayes to Utah within his first 10 days as deputy secretary and direct him to meet with governmental entities concerning the 77 lease parcels. 

"I will direct David Hayes to meet with all interested stakeholders in a community forum
in Utah," Salazar wrote. "I will direct David Hayes to review the administrative record concerning the 77 lease parcels and to provide a report with recommendations on the 77 lease parcels by May 29th."

Also at odds with Hayes is Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who wrote to Salazar last week in opposition to his decision to place a 180-day hold on a Bush-era five-year plan for oil and gas exploration on the nation's outer continental shelf.