Sheriff Salazar stalled by posse politics

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Republicans rallied the troops in the Senate this morning and managed to block the much-delayed confirmation of David Hayes, Ken "New Sheriff in Town" Salazar's choice to serve as his top deputy at the Department of the Interior. In a crucial test of whether the new administration's bold break with the Bush approach to drilling the hell out of public lands can succeed, anger over Salazar's new direction prevailed, as Dems fell three votes short of the sixty-vote "supermajority" needed to ram through the confirmation.

Salazar had an effortless path to confirmation himself among his former colleagues on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, as noted in my previous blog, "Salazar Hearing a Lovefest Among Chums." But his first three months as Interior Secretary have generated bluster and bewilderment from powerful energy interests as well as from greenies who think the new sheriff isn't moving fast enough to save the planet -- a tightwire act detailed in our March feature, "The Zen of Ken."

As that piece reported, some of Salazar's first decisions so angered a handful of GOP senators, including Utah's Bob Bennett, that Hayes' nomination was tossed around as a possible target for retaliation. Now that threat's been made good, as even the defection of some of the GOP faithful (heads up, Arlen Specter) failed to override the intractables.

Ironically, one of the GOP types leading the blockade was Salazar's former committee mate, Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, who all but gushed over him at his confirmation hearing. But partisanship has since reared its ugly behind, even though some of the issues that have the Republicans steaming seem like pretexts at best. For example, Salazar's decision to halt an energy-lease sale on the doorstep of national parks in Utah ticked off Bennett -- but the sale was already tied up in litigation and procedural issues and may well have been tossed out anyway.

Salazar makes his own case to Bennett and Murkowski here. But now the new Secretary, who's made a career out of working both sides of the aisles and plodding toward consensus, is going to have to work even harder.

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