Updated at 1:33 p.m. EST
President Trump is withdrawing his controversial nomination of William Perry Pendley to lead the Bureau of Land Management.
A White House official confirmed the Pendley nomination is being withdrawn. The nomination will not be officially withdrawn until the Senate returns from its annual summer recess in September, multiple sources said.
The move to pull back the Pendley nomination comes as a surprise, and it's not clear why Trump is doing so less than two months after making him his first nominee for BLM director in nearly four years in office.
But Pendley, whom Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and BLM had defended vigorously, will continue "to lead the Bureau of Land Management" as its deputy director of policy and programs who is also "exercising the authority of director," the Interior Department confirmed in a statement.
The statement contained no information explaining why Trump is withdrawing the nomination. "The President makes staffing decisions," it said.
Pendley's public statements supporting the sale of federal lands and mocking the Black Lives Matter movement had placed enormous pressure on Senate Republicans, particularly those locked in tight reelection bids this November — Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner and Montana Sen. Steve Daines, in particular.
The withdrawal of the nomination comes just days after all 45 Democrats in the Senate wrote a letter to Trump denouncing his nomination and urging the president "to identify a new, qualified candidate for this critical position — one who supports public lands and the mission of the Bureau of Land Management" (Greenwire, Aug. 11).
A confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee had not been set.
Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) was notified of the withdrawal decision late yesterday, sources said.
New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich (D), a committee member, told E&E News today that he was happy Pendley's nomination is being withdrawn.
Heinrich, however, was not pleased to learn that Pendley will remain at BLM as its de facto acting director.
"What's clear then they're trying to have it both ways, and that's completely unacceptable," he said.
He added: "We've seen with Republicans, they want to have it both ways. They want to be for public lands and then they're afraid to stand up to the president when he puts an arsonist in charge of the fire department at the BLM.
"This is a guy who should be locked out the building."