Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Reid wants to end Wyden hold on Interior nominee

Bush Interior pick Laverty

UPDATE, 10/30: WASHINGTON -- Senate Leader Reid served Bush/Cheney and hosed Sen. Wyden, ethics and science today by calling for a vote while Wyden was out of town with his wife who was having a baby. It seems Reid doesn't care much for needed reforms at Interior.

UPDATE, 10/16: WASHINGTON -- Read some inside views below that I just received from people close to the situation in the US Senate. Names have been removed where you see ...

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I just talked to... Here's the update:

Wyden is continuing to maintain his hold on Laverty's nomination, and he is receiving communication from Interior, trying to address his concerns. I believe Wyden still has some personal conviction about this issue and is willing to put his neck out via the hold because he feels his state got screwed (the salmon, etc.).

Meanwhile, Reid does want to see the hold cleared and is therefore applying some pressure to Wyden about it, but I don't know if Reid has any deal cut with Interior or if he just wants to see some progress on appointments. ...did not make it sound like the pressure from Reid was super strong, but it's there. ...said Wyden and his staff are "keeping an open mind," but emphasized that they feel like the hold is getting some positive results (forcing Interior to revisit the species decisions, address some of the ethics concerns).

The communication from Interior to Wyden has been about both the process that FWS used to select their list of species decisions they would revisit and the changes Interior is making to address the underlying problem. I asked... what that second part meant, and it was Kempthorne's wimpy ethics platform that he announced a few months ago. On the process for deciding which species to revisit, ...did not indicate that this was still a thing they were pissed about (the tone of ...response implied they were somewhat satisfied by the answer from FWS), but ...also said they were not directly a part of all the meetings and conversations on this.

I emphasized that we were still concerned about the species that didn't make it on the FWS list. I also mentioned that UCS had some good recommendations to share about how Congress and Interior might address the systemic reforms needed. I mentioned the concepts of right of last review, dissenting opinion documentation, and whistleblower protection legislation. I told... I would talk to... and encourage them to contact her if they had any suggestions to share. She seemed very interested in this. ...mentioned that Wyden would be hesitant to introduce something that felt like a big new demand late in the negotiations, but I told ...we would all think about more modest asks that may be appropriate on a shorter time scale.

...It could be helpful to have Wyden pushing for the same policy reforms you/we are calling for. Call me if you want to talk more...

On the issue of the wronged species that FWS will revisit, I will resend... our master list of Julie-affected decisions, along with the addendum of ones that were not Julie but still smack of political interference. Please recommend anything else we might want to provide to or ask of Wyden's staff.

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WASHINGTON -- A hold by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., on President Bush's nominee to head the Fish and Wildlife Service has prompted Senate Majority Leader Reid to try to end the impasse. Bush nominated Lyle Laverty of Arvada CO to be assistant secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks March 26. Wyden announced his hold four days later because of problems associated with former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Julie MacDonald.

MacDonald resigned May 1 after a review by the department's inspector general in March found she had given government documents to industry lobbyists. Wyden is seeking assurances that the Interior Department will review MacDonald's actions and attempt to prevent similar incidents. "We haven't received the concrete assurances that we've been looking for yet," a Wyden spokeswoman said.

Reid offered an apology of sorts to the Bush administration for the delay. "I want those in the White House and [Interior] Secretary Kempthorne's office who are watching to know I have done my best to clear [Laverty], whom Secretary Kempthorne badly needs, he says, and I believe that," Reid said in comments in the Oct. 4 Congressional Record. "But I have been unable to do that. We have a member on our side with whom I have worked all afternoon. We thought we had it done once, and it did not work out." Reid added he is confident they will work out a deal and hoped Kempthorne "recognizes we will do what we can on the Monday or Tuesday we get back to see if we can clear this."

An Interior Department spokesman said Kempthorne has spoken with Reid and made the point that the assistant secretary position has been vacant since 2005 and Laverty "is extremely well qualified for the position, and it is important that he be confirmed quickly so that he can get to work." Kempthorne, who served a term in the Senate, "has a great working relationship with Sen. Reid," the spokesman added.

Wyden's spokeswoman said, "There have been some discussions with leadership, but I don't have any progress to report." Wyden also cites the inspector general's findings in charging that MacDonald forced Fish and Wildlife Service scientists and staff to alter findings, including shrinking the nesting range of the endangered southwest willow flycatcher so it does not cross into California where MacDonald's in-laws owned a ranch.

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by Darren Goode, CongressDaily

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