This vote was on confirming David J. Hayes to be deputy secretary of the Interior Department. Hayes’ nomination had been held up by Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska and Robert Bennett, R-Utah, who blocked the nomination over a dispute unrelated to Hayes. This vote was called in order to force the Senate to decide the issue. Murkowski and Bennett were using Hayes’ nomination as leverage in a dispute with the Obama administration over domestic energy development. The two senators demanded additional information about the Interior Department’s decisions to withdraw 77 oil and gas leases in Utah and to change rules for protecting endangered species.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., praised Hayes’ experience and pointed out that he is a graduate of Notre Dame University and Stanford Law.
“He has a long and impressive track record of negotiating the kinds of difficult issues the Department of Interior deals with every day. But he can't get this work done until this body confirms him. In a repeat of a scene we have unfortunately become far too familiar with lately, Republicans are standing in the way,” Reid said. “The real issue is the fact that in the last minutes of the Bush administration, the waning minutes, Secretary Kempthorne issued 77 oil and gas leases. These leases are next door to national parks. It was a concern of the National Park Service when it was done. The environmental community is up in arms. The people of Utah don't like it. No one else would. We have one national park in Nevada, Great Basin National Park. I know how the people of Nevada would feel if they had started bringing in oil rigs next to Great Basin National Bark. They wouldn't like it. Ken Salazar, when he became Secretary of the Interior, withdrew those regulations. He didn't terminate them, he withdrew them for further study, further review. We have here an issue of the people of the State of Utah versus oil companies. For far too long, the oil companies have always won. Let's make it so that the people win for a change.”
Bennett agreed that Hayes is qualified for the position, but said he won’t allow the nomination to proceed without “clear answers” to questions about the oil and gas leases in his home state of Utah. Bennett said that after Obama took office, only 77 of the 128 leases granted before Bush left office were withdrawn, leaving him with questions about how the administration decided which of the 128 to withdraw.
“If there was a flaw in the way these leases were handled, the entire 128 should have been withdrawn because they were all handled in exactly the same manner. The 77 were withdrawn because an environmental group filed a lawsuit. The environmental group decided which leases should be challenged, not the Department of the Interior,” Bennett said. “No. 1, most of the leases are natural gas; there are not oil rigs involved at all. And, No. 2, they are not right next door to the national parks. Some of them are as far as 60 miles away.”
By a vote of 57-39, the cloture motion was rejected. Though more voted yes than no, this particular type of vote requires 60 votes in order to be considered approved. All but one Democrat present voted for the motion. All but two Republicans present voted against the motion. The end result is that the motion to close debate on Hayes’ nomination and proceed to a vote despite the holds placed failed, and debate on his nomination continued.