Maine senators split on Biden’s controversial Bureau of Land Management nominee

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On July 27, the U.S. Senate voted to bring President Joe Biden’s appointee to head the Bureau of Land Management to a final vote, though a date on which the vote will be held has not been set.

Tracy Stone-Manning, whom Biden nominated on April 22, has become a controversial nominee as a result of allegations she was involved with tree-spiking when she was a graduate student.

A vote by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee earlier this month was split 10-10 along party lines, with Democrats voting to advance Stone-Manning’s nomination and Republicans opposing it.

The nomination will move forward as a result of the full Senate vote on a motion to discharge Stone-Manning’s nomination. Because Senate membership is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, the Senate created Senate Resolution 27, which establishes procedural rules that allow the body to move split votes forward. The resolution created a process allowing a Senate majority to discharge consideration of a nominee from committee if it is not reported out of a committee because of a tie vote.

The vote to discharge Stone-Manning’s nomination was also split on party lines, succeeding by a vote of 50-49, with one member not voting. Maine’s Senators were split in their vote. Republican Susan Collins joined the rest of her party in opposing Stone-Manning, while Independent Angus King joined Democrats in voting to move Stone-Manning’s nomination forward. 

Republican opposition to Stone-Manning is the result of allegations she was involved in a tree-spiking incident in 1989. At the time, Stone-Manning was a graduate student at the University of Montana and was associated with Earth First, an environmental group founded in 1980 that sometimes used extreme tactics, such as destruction of private property, to protect the environment.

She rented a typewriter from the school library and, at the request of a fellow student, retyped a letter to the U.S. Forest Service warning that trees in Idaho’s Clearwater National Forest, which were scheduled to be cleared for lumber, had been spiked. 

The letter resulted in law enforcement raids on others at the university who were involved in the group. In exchange for immunity, Stone-Manning testified against two of her friends who were convicted of spiking the trees.

In Senate testimony, Stone-Manning claimed she sent the letter to the U.S. Forest Service because she was afraid someone would be hurt by the spikes in the trees. Asked in her Senate committee questionnaire whether she had ever been arrested, charged with a crime, or been targeted in an investigation, Stone-Manning answered no.

But a letter sent to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee by a former investigator for the U.S. Forest Service contradicts that statement. In it, retired criminal investigator Michael Merkley alleged Stone-Manning knew she had been investigated in 1989 for the tree-spiking incident, and again in 1993 when she agreed to receive immunity from prosecution in exchange for testifying against those responsible for the incident. If that allegation is true, it means Stone-Manning lied in her Senate testimony.

John Blount, one of the men convicted of the tree-spiking, alleged Stone-Manning knew of the plan to spike the trees.

A former federal prosecutor involved in the government’s case against the tree-spikers, however, said that Stone-Manning had not been a target of the investigation before it went to court. 

With the Senate split evenly on party lines, stopping Stone-Manning’s confirmation as head of the Bureau of Land Management would require the vote of all 50 Republicans, plus one Democrat or Independent. A tie vote would be broken by Vice-President Kamala Harris, who would likely support Biden’s nominee.

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