WASHINGTON — Two Cabinet nominees to departments important to Nevada interests sailed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday and are headed for full Senate confirmation votes.
The Senate panel approved former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to head the Energy Department on a 16-7 vote, and U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., to lead the Department of Interior on a 16-6 vote.
Democrats, though, delayed committee action on the nominations of U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., to be U.S. attorney general, Steve Mnuchin to be treasury secretary and U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., to head the Department of Health and Human Services.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, was easily approved by the full Senate on a 93-6 vote. Nevada U.S. Sens. Dean Heller, a Republican, and Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, both voted to approve Chao.
Perry, Zinke and Mnuchin were grilled in committee hearings on their nominations about Nevada interests.
Perry told the Energy Committee during a hearing that he now valued the department he once infamously said as a presidential candidate that he would eliminate.
During the hearing, Perry also acknowledged local opposition to restarting development of Yucca Mountain as a nuclear repository, although he refused to rule out that site as a waste storage facility.
Cortez Masto voted for the nomination despite her concerns about Perry’s past rhetoric on climate change and his “overall value of the Department of Energy’s mission.”
“I am encouraged by the fact that when he ran for president he stated his support for consent based (s)iting and spoke against Yucca Mountain, arguing that if Nevadans do not want a nuclear repository, then they should not have it,” said Cortez Masto, a member of the panel.
Zinke, during his hearing, promised to visit both Nevada and Utah in his review of former President Barack Obama’s designation of the Gold Butte and Bear’s Ears regions of those two states as national monuments.
Obama used the Antiquities Act of 1906 to make the national monument designations. The action was hailed by Democrats and environmentalists, but drew opposition from Republicans and conservatives.
Heller and U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., have sponsored legislation in the Senate and House that would limit future presidential administrations from making designations without more input from local leaders and stakeholders.
Heller also sits on the Senate Finance Committee, which was expected to hold a vote on the nomination of Mnuchin, a former owner of OneWest Bank, which foreclosed on thousands of Nevadans when the housing bubble burst. Democrats used parliamentary tactics to delay the vote.
Mnuchin was grilled by Heller during a nomination hearing about the foreclosures, and the former banker’s reluctance to reply to questions about those foreclosures and assistance given to people to Nevada to modify home loans.
Heller, on social media, has since said he has received answers to his questions about OneWest actions in Nevada.
Meanwhile, dozens of protesters were arrested for demonstrations targeting politically vulnerable senators in both parties to vote against repeal of the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare. Heller was one of the several lawmakers targeted.
Earlier this year, Heller filed bipartisan legislation to repeal the “Cadillac tax” in the Obamacare legislation. His repeal legislation is backed by the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 in Las Vegas.
Contact Gary Martin at 202-662-7390 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.