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Friday, July 17, 2020
Daines has stood by Pendley despite his having “argued for selling off almost all public lands” and claiming that concerns about climate change come from “kooks” who are “preaching fear.”
In an attempt to paper over his abysmal public lands record, Daines supported the Great American Outdoors Act in a transparent election-year ploy. But a vote to confirm Pendley would undercut these hollow efforts to rewrite his history of playing politics with Montana’s public lands.
Politico: Trump’s ‘unforced error’ puts Western Senate Republicans in an election jam
By: Kelsey Tamborrino, Anthony Adragna
President Donald Trump has put a trio of western Republicans facing tough reelections in a tight spot with his controversial nominee for the Bureau of Land Management — potentially dimming Republicans’ chances of keeping control of the Senate.
By nominating William Perry Pendley to be director of the agency, Trump has forced three vulnerable GOP incumbents — Sens. Steve Daines of Montana, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Martha McSally of Arizona — to either defy the White House and oppose Pendley, or support him and risk throwing away any political benefit they got from passing the Great American Outdoors Act, H.R. 1957 (116), by installing someone to oversee the nation’s public lands who spent decades advocating to sell them off.
“Everything they gain from being part of the Great American Outdoors Act, all of that goodwill will go out the window if they support this nominee,” Sen.Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told POLITICO.
“In any western state that has substantial public land, this is a resonant issue that can make a difference,” he said, adding, “I think it would be very wise for any senator — from the West in particular — to really think hard about whether they can support this nominee.”
Pendley, who became deputy director for policy and programs at BLM last year under a secretarial order, has been among the most controversial appointees at Interior since he has in the past called for selling off federal lands, referred to undocumented immigrants as cancer and dismissed the Black Lives Matter movement as based on “a lie.” Pendley also leads the department as it completes its controversial reorganization that moved its headquarters to Grand Junction, Colo., a push led by Gardner.
The contest between Daines and Gov. Steve Bullock appears neck-and-neck with recent polls finding the race within a couple of percentage points.
A spokesperson for Daines declined comment, though the Montana Republican’s office said in 2019 he would “most likely” support Pendley.
But making the nomination so close to the election struck some observers as a strategic mistake, though they welcome the scrutiny it will place on the nominee.
Aaron Murphy, a former chief of staff to Tester and the executive director of the Montana Conservation Voters, which has endorsed Bullock, called the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act a win for Daines, but cautioned that a vote in favor of Pendley would undercut it.
“If you want to be a conservation champion, you’ve got to be bold and courageous and can’t just do one token bill and call yourself a conservationist,” Murphy said. “It doesn’t work that way.”
Eighty-seven percent of Montana voters said public lands issues would be a key issue in who they would support in 2020 elections, according to June polling conducted for the Center for Western Priorities.
“Access to public lands has become the third rail of Montana politics,” said Barrett Kaiser, a Montana Democratic strategist who works regularly on public lands issues and is unaffiliated with the Bullock campaign. “Daines has to be very frustrated with this White House for putting Pendley up.”
For Bullock, Pendley’s nomination reignites a fight from two decades ago in which the BLM nominee headed a group seeking to roll back Montana’s stream access laws.
“Pendley wanted to restrict access to our public lands to a wealthy few, but we prevailed in that action and ensured that our rivers and streams belonged to all Montanans,” Bullock said in a statement.
Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who tracks the presidential nomination and confirmation process, cautioned that the politics of the vote remain difficult, particularly given the timing of the lands bill. But he was puzzled as to why the White House moved forward with the nomination now.
“He can get everything he wants from the nominee in the next four months, though it just seems like an unforced error that didn’t need to happen and puts some of the senators in a difficult position,” he added.
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