Yesterday President Trump’s nominee to run the Interior Department, David Bernhardt, had his confirmation hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and he was questioned hard by the Democrats about his alleged conflicts of interest and how his close ties to the oil and gas industry might color his views as Secretary. All that was business as usual, but what made news was a protester dressed as a swamp creature who sat quietly in the second row right behind Mr. Bernhardt for two hours to make the point visually about this Administration’s “swampiness.” Eventually, the Capitol Police removed the protester, and several others dressed similarly, but by then they had made their point.
According to The Washington Post, the activists were from Greenpeace, the Clean Water Fund, Environment America and Public Citizen and the purpose of the protest was to point out Bernhardt’s “long list of conflicts of interest with the oil & gas industry, and highlighting his historic anti-environmental past,” the groups said in a statement. The protesters definitely stood out — The Post reported that some wore masks resembling the Creature from the Black Lagoon, while others wore “swamp-inspired green couture and wore masks of Bernhardt’s face.” Point made.
And a hearing in the House also made news, but for a different reason. Republican Congressman Andy Barr of Kentucky invited Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to visit a coal mine to talk with out of work miners in his district and she accepted. The two had sparred at the hearing about whether the Green New Deal would help or hurt those coal miners, but this exchange demonstrated that both, in their own ways, are seeking to help the people of Appalachia.
Why This Matters: Congressional hearings don’t often make news, but these were remarkable for the points made in each. Those swamp creatures (LOL) were able to make headlines around the country, in a way that none of the barrages of difficult questions could, that the Interior nominee may have real conflicts of interest that will impair his ability to do the job for the American public. At the same time, as heated as the exchange was between Barr and Ocasio-Cortez, it was respectful and it was clear that both heard the other and genuinely want to solve the problems caused by the loss of coal jobs in this country. it will be interesting to see what happens next — whether Mr. Bernhardt’s industry ties will lead to a close vote on his confirmation, and whether the Barr/Ocasio-Cortez visit with miners will lead to sustainable government assistance to people in a region of our country that needs all our help rather than simply propping up a dying industry.