While Senate Democrats boycotted votes for some of President Trump's other cabinet picks, his nominees to lead the Department of Energy (DOE) and Interior (DOI) sailed through the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Tuesday with bipartisan support.
The panel voted 16-6 in favor of Rep. Ryan Zinke's (R-MT) nomination to lead the DOI, and 16-7 in favor of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry's nomination to head the DOE. Both nominations will now move to the Senate floor for a final vote.
"I look forward to partnering with Congressman Zinke and Gov. Perry, who will lead departments that contribute significantly to our nation's economic prosperity and national security," Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the committee's chairman, said in a statement. "Given the bipartisan support that both nominees received today, I am hopeful that their nominations will be taken up and confirmed quickly by the full Senate."
Murkowski said she hoped for a "speedy" confirmation of both nominees on the Senate floor.
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the committee's ranking member, said she had serious concerns not only with the nominees, but with the actions taken by the Trump administration during its first days in office. Among her concerns was an executive order that removed the DOE secretary from the list of regular members on the National Security Council.
"I would say with everything that's happening on cyber, and the threats that this nation is facing to our electricity grid on cybersecurity, now is not the time to remove somebody from that post," Cantwell said.
Cantwell also took issue with an executive order barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.
"Many of our national laboratories are supported in key scientific missions with postdoctoral fellows and scientists that come to us from all over the world," Cantwell said. "Have we forgotten that Albert Einstein was an immigrant who fled Europe? Or that Enrico Fermi's wife was Jewish, and he and his family came to the United States after the Nobel Prize ceremony in 1938?"
She later added, "I hope that, as we move forward, my colleagues will work very hard to speak out against the policies of this administration that are coming into conflict with science."
Turning to Perry's nomination, Cantwell said he had been given "many opportunities to clarify, for the record, the lack of enthusiasm to refute what the Trump administration was pursuing" over its plans to scuttle the DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, and the Office of Fossil Energy.
"This is especially important since President Trump had said, prior to being sworn in, 'my cabinet officials speak for themselves -- they're free to say whatever what they want,'" Cantwell said. "So I see no reason why he could not have spoken in more urgent terms on something that has been supported by both Democrat and Republican administrations that is key to the job structure of our future and supported enthusiastically."
She later told Zinke, who attended the meeting, "I know you want to be a Teddy Roosevelt kind of [DOI secretary], but right now you're working with an administration who, in their own infrastructure bill, says that they are going to pay for it by oil and gas infrastructure by oil and gas on federal lands -- all over federal lands. I don't know where that stops."
Although all 12 Republicans on the committee voted for both nominees, the picture was muddled on the Democratic side.
Two Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), voted for both men, as did Sen. Angus King (I-ME), who caucuses with the Democrats. Cantwell and Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Al Franken (D-MN) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) voted against the nominees, as did Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who also caucuses with the Democrats.
Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) voted for Zinke but against Perry, while Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) voted for Perry but was against Zinke. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) did not cast a vote on Zinke and opposed Perry.
According to reports, Democratic lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee boycotted votes to advance the nominations of Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) to head the Department of Health and Human Services, and Steve Mnuchin to lead the Department of the Treasury.
"I think it's fair to say that things on the Hill right now, certainly things in the Senate as we are trying to deal with these confirmations, have been testy," Murkowski said. She thanked Cantwell "for working with me to make sure that we could have a committee meeting that was smooth and expeditious, [and] without fireworks...
"It's just another chapter moving forward in some interesting times that will challenge us both."