Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks as Senate Minority Whip Sen. John Thune (R-SD) listens during a news briefing after a Senate Republican Policy Luncheon at the U.S. Capitol July 13, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Senate GOPs gathered for the weekly policy luncheon to discuss the Republican agenda. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday joined the ranks of GOP senators opposing the confirmation of Tracy Stone-Manning, the president’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Land Management, possibly signaling the confirmation could soon move beyond the Energy Committee.
The strongly critical statement from McConnell, of Kentucky, was not a surprise, but the timing could signal the increasingly bitter confirmation battle will soon progress to the full Senate and involve leadership of both parties. A deciding vote in the evenly split Senate could be cast by Vice President Kamala Harris.
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Prior to McConnell’s statement, GOP opposition to Stone-Manning had mostly been confined to members of the Senate Energy Committee, which has yet to schedule a confirmation vote more than a month after Stone-Manning’s June 8 hearing.
Republicans on the committee, especially ranking member John Barrasso of Wyoming, have repeatedly campaigned against Stone-Manning in the weeks since the hearing.
Mostly, their focus has been on a controversy that attracted national attention following the hearing: Stone-Manning’s involvement with a 1989 tree-spiking scheme in an Idaho forest to prevent its logging.
Stone-Manning mailed a threatening letter warning of the spiked trees, but did not participate directly and later testified against the group’s leaders. Stone-Manning testified about the incident during the 2013 confirmation process for a state-level post in Montana, for which she ultimately won approval.
On Monday, Barrasso sent Stone-Manning 39 pages of additional questions related to the tree-spiking incident and other concerns he said he has about her background. Barrasso asked Stone-Manning to reply by 5 p.m. Thursday “in order to enable preparations for a possible” committee vote on the confirmation.
Mike Saccone, a spokesman for the National Wildlife Federation, where Stone-Manning works as a senior adviser for conservation policy, said Friday the group stands by her.
“We look forward to working with her after she’s confirmed in the coming weeks,” he said.
Senators’ public statements indicate a close confirmation vote for Stone-Manning if the full Senate considers it.
Energy Committee Chairman Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), who represents a state President Joe Biden lost by nearly 40 percentage points, has not taken a position on Stone-Manning’s confirmation.
Manchin, often viewed as the swing vote in the evenly divided Senate, has sought to cultivate strong relationships with Republicans, including Barrasso, but is also close with U.S. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, another Democrat from an otherwise Republican state who staunchly supports the nomination.
A Manchin spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a previous Energy Committee chair and one of the more frequent Republicans to vote with Democrats, has said the Alaska Republican plans to vote against Stone-Manning.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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