Democratic News

To watch a video of Senator Manchin’s floor speech, please click here.

Washington, DC – Today, the U.S. Senate confirmed David Bernhardt to be Secretary of the Interior by a vote of 56-41. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, voted to confirm Mr. Bernhardt and spoke on the Senate floor before the vote. Last week, Mr. Bernhardt was approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee by a vote of 14-6. 

“As a former Governor, I have always believed that an executive is entitled to deference when selecting his or her team, as long as the candidates are qualified and ethical. I have carefully reviewed Mr. Bernhardt’s experience and his qualifications. I met with him twice before his hearing and spoke with him again by phone afterwards. I questioned him extensively about his willingness to be a good steward of our nation’s greatest natural treasures—our national parks, monuments, and historical sites. I questioned him about his responsibility to balance our resource needs with environmental protection and fairness to the owners of our public lands—the American people. I spoke to him about the need to make sure that those who are granted the privilege of using our public lands leave them in better condition than they found them,” Senator Manchin said in part. “Based on my extensive discussions with Mr. Bernhardt and the assurances he gave me, I voted for him in the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Committee last week, and I will support his nomination when the Senate votes to confirm him. But as I said before the vote in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I expect him and the Department to hold itself to the highest ethical standards.  I can assure you I will.”

Read Senator Manchin’s floor remarks as prepared for delivery below: 

Mr./Madam President – I rise today to speak on the nomination of Mr. David Bernhardt to be Secretary of the Interior. 

The Committee on Energy and Natural Resources voted to report David Bernhardt’s nomination to be the Secretary of the Interior last week by a vote of 14 to 6.

Members on both sides held—and continue to hold—strong feelings on Mr. Bernhardt’s nomination.

Both sides have scrutinized his record carefully, as we should, considering the enormous responsibilities entrusted to the Secretary of the Interior.

Whether it be payments to miners for their health care benefits, processing permits for the privilege of energy production on federal lands, or ensuring the U.S. Geological Survey can conduct its critical work of collecting and analyzing data on our changing climate, the Department of the Interior has a huge amount of responsibility and diverse jurisdiction.  

Furthermore, the Secretary of the Interior is the guardian of our nation’s greatest natural treasures.

The Department of the Interior manages nearly half a billion acres of federal land— or about 20 percent of the nation’s land—one of every five acres in the United States. 

These lands include some of our most special places—our national parks, trails, seashores, and historic sites.

In addition, the Department manages another 1.7 billion acres of submerged lands on the Outer Continental Shelf.

The Department of the Interior is also the largest supplier of water in the 17 western states.

It manages nearly 500 dams and over 300 reservoirs that supply water to over 31 million people and irrigates 10 million acres of farmland.  

Furthermore, nearly 20 percent of the energy we use is produced on lands managed by the Secretary.  This includes not just coal, oil, and natural gas, but also hydropower and geothermal, solar, and wind energy.

In addition, the Secretary of the Interior manages our trust obligations to nearly 600 federally recognized Indian Tribes and provides services to nearly two million Native Americans.

By any measure, the job of the Secretary of the Interior is an enormous and special responsibility.

As a former Governor, I have always believed that an executive is entitled to deference when selecting his or her team, as long as the candidates are qualified and ethical.   

I have carefully reviewed Mr. Bernhardt’s experience and his qualifications.  

I met with him twice before his hearing and spoke with him again by phone afterwards.

I questioned him extensively about his willingness to be a good steward of our nation’s greatest natural treasures—our national parks, monuments, and historical sites.

I questioned him about his responsibility to balance our resource needs with environmental protection and fairness to the owners of our public lands—the American people.

I spoke to him about the need to make sure that those who are granted the privilege of using our public lands leave them in better condition than they found them.

Based on my extensive discussions with him and my review of his record, I believe Mr. Bernhardt is clearly qualified to serve as Secretary.  

He held senior positions in the Department for eight years during the Bush Administration, including over two years as the Solicitor, the third highest office in the Department.

He has served as the Deputy Secretary for the past two years, and as Acting Secretary since January.

He knows the Interior Department inside and out, and he is well versed on all of the issues that come before it.  

He clearly has the knowledge and experience to serve as Secretary.

The opposition to Mr. Bernhardt’s nomination comes not from any lack of knowledge or experience, but from questions about appearances of conflicts of interest arising from his law practice prior to being confirmed as Deputy Secretary.

I had extensive conversations with Mr. Bernhardt about these potential conflict of interests and his compliance with ethics laws and regulations.

We also spoke about the importance of ensuring a culture at the Department of the Interior that reflects the highest level of ethical compliance and integrity.

Based on my extensive discussions with Mr. Bernhardt and the assurances he gave me, I voted for him in the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Committee last week, and I will support his nomination when the Senate votes to confirm him.

But as I said before the vote in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I expect him and the Department to hold itself to the highest ethical standards.  I can assure you I will.

Mr. Bernhardt must work to ensure a commitment to ethical and scientific integrity and I intend to work with him and his staff persistently to ensure that is the case.  

Our parks and public lands, our scenic beauty, our fish and wildlife resources are important to the people of West Virginia—to the people of all of our states—and to our nation’s outdoor recreation economy.

West Virginians count on the Secretary of the Interior, as the guardian of our public lands.

The Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, on which I am privileged to serve as Ranking Member, has a lot of work to do—

  • to address the park maintenance backlog, 
  • to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, 
  • to ensure that companies granted the privilege of developing public energy and mineral resources pay the royalties they owe the taxpayers, and 
  • to see that our public lands and resources are wisely managed and protected.

I intend to work with Mr. Bernhardt on these important issues.

I have made it clear to him that I expect him to put his extensive experience and knowledge of these issues to work for the American people and to execute his responsibilities in a manner that ensures that our public lands are not just being maintained but improved for the benefit of generations to come.

For that reason, I will vote to confirm him to this important position. 

Thank you, Mr./Madam President. 

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