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Senate confirms a second former lobbyist atop Interior

A cluster of Democrats voted for MacGregor

Katharine MacGregor testifies during the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee confirmation hearing in the Dirksen Building on Nov. 5, 2019.
Katharine MacGregor testifies during the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee confirmation hearing in the Dirksen Building on Nov. 5, 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate confirmed former lobbyist Katharine MacGregor by a 58-38 vote to be deputy secretary of the Interior Department, filing a post that sat vacant since late 2018.

The vote places two former lobbyists in the two highest-ranking positions of the agency: MacGregor and Secretary David Bernhardt.

A cluster of Democrats voted for MacGregor, who also managed to secure support from Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla, and Rick Scott, R-Fla., who had chafed against Trump administration plans to open Florida waters to offshore oil drilling.

Among Democrats who voted for the nomination were Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Joe Manchin III, of West Virginia.

Rubio placed a hold on MacGregor’s nomination in December over the Trump administration’s offshore drilling plan but later lifted it.

“I am confident that Deputy Secretary MacGregor understands Florida’s unique and vulnerable coastal character, and that most Floridians are opposed to allowing offshore drilling off of the state’s coasts,” Rubio said in a statement. “I am confident that the ban on oil drilling off of Florida’s coasts will remain in place.” 

Interior announced in 2017 it would start drilling off the coasts of nearly every coastal state. The plan met swift bipartisan opposition. 

Rubio said he wants to extend the active moratorium against offshore drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico beyond 2022, when it expires. 

[Bernhardt defends Interior public records review policy]

Bernhardt, who has his own thick lobbying resume, was the No. 2 at Interior until Ryan Zinke, President Donald Trump’s first pick, resigned in December 2018. Bernhardt took over that job in an interim role before the Senate confirmed him in April.

Under federal ethics rules, Bernhardt, a former partner at law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, had to recuse himself from directly working on matters related to 26 former clients. 

Bernhardt represented the National Ocean Industries Association, an offshore energy trade group that has spoken favorably of expanding coastal drilling, and calendar records show MacGregor met with NOIA officials on at least four occasions since joining Interior: once in late 2017 and three times between January and July 2018.

MacGregor worked as a registered lobbyist for Alcalde & Fay, a lobbying firm in Arlington, Va., from 2003 through 2007, before jumping to work for congressional Republicans.

MacGregor joined the Interior Department in 2017 as deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management.

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