The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee said it plans to consider the nomination of Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne for secretary of Interior at a hearing Thursday (May 4).
President Bush in March tapped Kempthorne for the position, selecting a western Republican who has national presence and close ties to Capitol Hill. Kempthorne, 54, would replace former Interior Secretary Gale Norton, who stepped down as head of the department at the end of March following five years with the Bush administration.
His nomination is expected to easily clear the Senate committee, said Bill Wicker, a spokesman for Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, the ranking Democrat on the Senate energy panel. "I haven't heard anybody anywhere say that his nomination is in trouble...A lot of senatorial courtesy will be extended" to Kempthorne, who prior to being elected governor of Idaho in 1998 had served six years as a U.S. senator, he noted.
But once his nomination is voted out by the Senate committee, it could face some trouble. Offshore drilling foe Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) vowed in March to block Kempthorne's nomination if he supports additional leasing in the natural gas-rich area known as Lease Sale 181 in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. His nomination also has come under attack from environmentalists.
Nelson is expected to meet with Kempthorne the day before the Senate energy panel hearing and, based on their discussion, will decide whether to place a hold on Kempthorne's nomination, said Nelson spokeswoman Bridget Walsh. If Nelson should impose a hold, it would prevent Kempthorne's nomination from going to the Senate floor for a vote.
In addition to being governor and a senator, Kempthorne was mayor of Boise, ID, for seven years. As Idaho's governor, Kempthorne has served as chairman of the National Governors Association, chairman of the Western Governors Association and president of the Council of State Governments.
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