Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013 | 2:27 p.m.
Neil Kornze symbolized two important firsts when he came before the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee today for a confirmation hearing to be the director of the Bureau of Land Management.
If confirmed, he would be the first native-born Nevadan in decades to lead the agency that presides over about two-thirds of Silver State land.
He is also the first Nevadan to face a confirmation hearing since Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., changed the filibuster rules on nominations — and that all but guaranteed Kornze would face some opposition.
“Now that the majority leader, who happens to have been your former employer, has eliminated the rights of the minority in the confirmation process, I think it’s more important than ever that this committee weigh the qualifications of nominees,” Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said at the hearing.
The committee will have to vote on Kornze’s nomination before it can proceed to the full Senate for a confirmation vote. That vote is not expected until the new year.
Reid and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., introduced Kornze to the committee with high praise. “Neil Kornze is somebody that is just perfect for the job,” Reid said of the nominee, who worked in his office as a public lands policy advisor from 2003 to 2011.
Kornze has been at the Bureau of Land Management since then and serves as the agency’s principal deputy director and acting head.
“Neil was born and raised in Elko County; he really does understand the role of rural America,” Reid said. “His expertise is going to be invaluable to the Bureau of Land Management...I have every bit of confidence that he will be the best director we’ve ever had.”
Heller also strongly endorsed Kornze.
“Neil understands that good public land management and economic development are not mutually exclusive,” Heller said. “While I have not always agreed with him on policy, he has proven to be a good partner on public land management issues.”
But Barrasso, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, questioned whether someone with only about three years experience at the BLM was up to the job.
“With all due respect to the majority leader, I think this is not the resume of the ‘perfect nominee’ and it doesn’t suggest that you will be ‘the best director we’ve ever had,’” Barrasso said.
Just because Reid cleared a path for the president’s nominees does not mean the Senate should allow for “a lower standard for nominees,” he said.
Last month, Reid broke with years of precedent and held a Senate vote to get rid of filibusters on nominations.
Reid cited a pattern of Republican obstructionism as having left him no choice. But Republican leaders were — and still are — livid.
“It’s a tragedy how the Senate’s being run into the ground by basically one person,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said today, referring to Reid.
Though Republicans can no longer use the procedural filibuster to block final votes on nominations, they have been redoubling their efforts to speak out against the now-changed rule whenever a nomination arises.