BLM nominee expected to squeak through committee vote today

By Emma Dumain | 07/22/2021 06:13 AM EST

Bureau of Land Management director nominee Tracy Stone-Manning during her confirmation hearing. Francis Chung/E&E News

President Biden’s pick to lead the Bureau of Land Management is expected this morning to clear the first hurdle in her confirmation battle — barely.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is due to split 10-10 on Tracy Stone-Manning, along party lines, after all Republicans who sit on the panel pledged last week to oppose her nomination amid allegations of “eco-terrorism” in the late-1980s.

This tied vote will result in Stone-Manning being referred “unfavorably” to the full Senate, requiring Democrats to bring up a motion to “discharge” her nomination at the appropriate time and tacking on an additional four hours of debate before a confirmation vote can occur.

It won’t be the first time such a fate has befallen a Biden nominee: Now-Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra was also reported unfavorably out of the committee overseeing his nomination.

But unlike with Becerra, it’s not clear whether any Republicans will join Democrats in supporting Stone-Manning once she hits the floor. That scenario would necessitate Vice President Kamala Harris serving as a tiebreaker in any number of procedural votes dividing a 50-50 Senate, including the vote on final confirmation. Republicans are making it clear they are prepared to make this process as unpleasant for Stone-Manning as possible.

On the eve of this morning’s markup, Senate Energy and Natural Resources ranking member John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) blasted out a “greatest hits” list of the most damning press clips surrounding Stone-Manning’s involvement, as a graduate student, with a radical environmental group and two activists who were ultimately convicted for a plot to drive metal spikes into trees to prevent a timber sale in Idaho’s Clearwater National Forest.

Stone-Manning was never charged herself and, in fact, received immunity for testifying against the two associates in federal court. But she did retype and send a threatening letter to authorities alerting them of the tree-spiking at the associates’ request.

Republicans contend this action implicated her in the activity, also citing a signed statement from retired Forest Service investigator Michael Merkley alleging Stone-Manning purposely evaded law enforcement and significantly impeded the investigation.

And John Blount, one of the charged tree-spikers, told E&E News that while Stone-Manning was not involved in the plotting or execution of the mission, she knew of their plans well in advance and did not report them (Greenwire, July 15).

GOP critics also contend Stone-Manning lied to lawmakers when she said in her committee questionnaire that she was never the target of a criminal investigation. Her handling of the process, said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), was ultimately what led him to decide to oppose her after initially expressing some sympathy for Stone-Manning.

“Her biggest challenge isn’t even, in my view, her role back then, as much as she’s been evasive about things,” said Cramer, who is not on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee but has been following the controversy closely.

Meanwhile, Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) is asserting himself now as a leading opponent of Stone-Manning’s after originally opting to take a back seat publicly. Daines ran for reelection in 2020 against then-Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, for whom Stone-Manning worked for many years. Stone-Manning is also a longtime board member of Montana Conservation Voters, which campaigned heavily against Daines in the last election cycle.

On Tuesday, amid accusations from Democrats that he had been working behind the scenes to discredit Stone-Manning since April, Daines came to the Senate floor to deliver a scathing speech on her candidacy (E&E Daily, July 21).

“None of her actions show any sort of remorse,” said Daines. “They didn’t then, and they still don’t.”

What’s less clear is how Democrats will posture at the markup today and in the coming days, and how hard they will rally behind her in support. While Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has entered the fray, the Senate’s top Democrat, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, has not weighed in.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), announced his support for Stone-Manning with little fanfare earlier this week (E&E Daily, July 20). For most of the confirmation process, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Stone-Manning’s former boss who personally recommended her for the BLM posting, has been the nominee’s more forceful advocate and defender.

Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat who sits on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said he “hopes” his Democratic colleagues would engage with Republicans at today’s business meeting.

“I mean, this is somebody whose career has been spotless,” he said of Stone-Manning, the current senior adviser for conservation policy at the National Wildlife Federation. “And [Republicans] are reaching back to her youth, to try to tar and feather her, because she’s been involved in politics in Montana.”

He added of his GOP colleagues: “I find it pretty ironic that all of these folks who’ve effectively ignored the domestic terrorism of Jan. 6 are suddenly very interested in what happened in the 1980s.”

Reporter Scott Streater contributed.