Kempthorne Sails Through Committee Vote on Nomination to Interior

A Senate committee Wednesday sent Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne's nomination as interior secretary to the full Senate, although procedural delays by lawmakers may stall his final confirmation to the Cabinet.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved Kempthorne's nomination on a voice vote. No senator opposed Kempthorne, although Sen. Mary Landrieu. D-La., voted "present" to protest the Bush administration's refusal to share a portion of offshore oil and gas royalties with Gulf Coast states.

Landrieu's vote drew a rebuke from the committee's chairman, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., who noted that Kempthorne is a former senator who is widely supported by lawmakers from both parties.

"I think your cause is not well-served by doing what you're doing today," Domenici said. "What you're doing essentially is saying no to the nominee. I wish you wouldn't be doing that to him."

Landrieu replied that she was not voting no, and called Kempthorne an "outstanding" nominee.

Landrieu and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., have said they intend to place a hold on Kempthorne's nomination once it is reported out of the committee. Holds are a privilege any senator can invoke to block a measure from coming to a floor vote.

Republican Senate leaders have said they will seek to override any holds on Kempthorne and bring his nomination to a floor vote before Memorial Day.

Nelson said he is opposed to an Interior Department proposal allowing oil and gas drilling off the Gulf of Mexico. Nelson, along with Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., say offshore drilling poses environmental risks that could threaten beaches crucial to the state's tourism industry.

Though the federal government splits royalties 50-50 between states and the federal government on oil and gas development in the Rocky Mountain West, it does not share offshore energy royalties with states.