American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

Energy Secretary Confirmation Process for Bill Richardson (8-20-98)

Latest Action
On August 19, 1998, Bill Richardson was sworn in as the new Secretary of Energy in a small private ceremony. The day before the ceremony, Senator Frank Murkowski withdrew his request for President Clinton to delay swearing in Richardson for the position, saying that there was no evidence of Richardson misleading the Senate panel at his confirmation hearing in late July. Richardson will retain the position of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations until the Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds a confirmation hearing on Richard Holbrooke as his replacement at the UN.

Request for Delay
Senator Frank Murkowski (R-AK) cleared Ambassador Bill Richardson of misleading the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in his testimony regarding a job offer Richardson's office made to Monica Lewinsky. Murkowski wrote to President Clinton urging him to swear in Richardson as the new Secretary of Energy, saying there was no evidence to support a report in the Washington Times suggesting that Richardson misled the committee in his testimony on July 22.

On August 7, Senator Frank Murkowski (R-AK), chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, requested that President Clinton postpone swearing in Bill Richardson as the new Secretary of Energy, currently scheduled for next month. There are questions as to whether Richardson truthfully answered questions regarding a position in his office that was offered to Monica Lewinsky. In the first round of questioning at the committee hearing on July 22, Murkowski questioned Richardson as to the nature of the position. Richardson responded that the position offered to Ms. Lewinsky was established well before she applied and gave an account of the interview between Ambassador Richardson, his Chief of Staff, Ms. Lewinsky, and other members of Richardson's staff. In a Washington Times article on August 8 it was reported that the position "had not been created until after Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr had issued Richardson a subpoena for all documents relating to the job offer." Richardson stands behind his testimony given at the hearing and said that he and his staff will cooperate fully with the Senate investigation into the matter.

Nomination Proceedings
As the August recess and November elections draw near, partisan politics has played an important role in the conformation of Bill Richardson to be Secretary of the Department of Energy. In mid-June, President Clinton nominated Richardson, currently the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, to be the third Secretary of Energy since Clinton's 1992 election. There is little debate in Congress that Richardson is a well-qualified candidate for the position, but several members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, led by Senator Larry Craig (R-ID), pledged to "aggressively oppose the nomination of Mr. Richardson -- or any other person -- until the Clinton administration gives the Secretary of Energy the authority to negotiate a solution to the problem of nuclear waste." Written statements of some of the members and the testimony of Ambassador Richardson is available at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee website.

Senate Floor Vote
Late on July 31, 1998, the last day before the long August recess, the Senate confirmed Ambassador Bill Richardson as the new Secretary of the Department of Energy. Senator Craig, vocally concerned with the Clinton Administration's lack in dealing with nuclear waste issues, received a letter from the White House stating that Richardson " has the portfolio to address the nuclear waste issue and has full authority to carry out his responsibilities in this area." The letter eased the Senator's concerns that the White House would "gag" Ambassador Richardson as, he believes, they have done in the past. Richardson's nomination passed with unanimous consent on the Senate floor subject to the "nominee's commitment to respond to requests to appear and testify before any duly constituted committee of the Senate." President Clinton, in a statement released shortly after the confirmation, praised the unanimous vote, and said that he was "confident that Ambassador Richardson's tremendous energy, creativity and leadership will help secure our nation's energy future so that America continues to prosper."

Confirmation Hearing
On July 22, Senators Jesse Helms (R-NC), Pete Domenici (R-NM), and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) introduced Ambassador Richardson to the Full Committee for consideration to be the Secretary of Energy. Committee chairman Frank Murkowski (R-AK) began the hearings, after an hour delay due to floor votes, by saying Richardson "is a well-qualified candidate which I support, with certain reservations." The Chair pointed out issues regarding the nation's nuclear waste problem, the domestic oil and gas crisis, and the "backdoor" attempts of the White House to implement provisions of the Kyoto Protocol as major areas of concern, and ended his statement by supporting Senator Larry Craig's plan to delay the nomination, "thought he expressed no desire to hold the nomination captive in his committee."

After Sen. Murkowski's short opening statement, members of the Committee made their opening comments that predominately sung the praises of Ambassador Richardson. In response to the press reports that members of the Committee may stall the nomination, Ranking Member Dale Bumpers (D-AR) said: "It is one thing for the Senate to withhold its consent because it does not think a nominee is qualified. It is quite another for a Senator to hold a nomination hostage until the President cedes his policy-making power to the nominee or the objecting Senator." Several members echoed Murkowski's areas of concern, but many said they have no plans to delay the nomination. Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD), expressing his criticism of the plan to delay the nomination, said that in the past he has supported nuclear waste bills, but that "he would have to reconsider his position if Richardson's nomination is kept off the floor due to some political agenda."

Richardson testified before a panel of former colleagues with whom he had worked with while a member in the House of Representatives. He served in the House, along with several members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, for 14 years representing the third district of New Mexico, a state that houses two Department of Energy laboratories. As a member of the House Resource Committee he worked on many energy "issues ranging from oil and gas deregulation, to alternative energy, to ensuring strong environmental standards in energy development."

Committee Vote
On July 29, 1998, as the last item on a packed business meeting agenda, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources passed the nomination of Ambassador Richardson by a roll call vote. With the exception of Senators Larry Craig and Rod Grams (R-MN) who voted "present," all members voted to pass the nomination -- Murkowski voted yes with hesitation. The nomination of Ambassador Richardson was then placed on the Senate calendar for floor debate and vote.

Sources: Hearing Testimony, Senator Craig's website, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources website, The Washington Post, White House website, and Environment & Energy Weekly

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at

Contributed by Margaret Baker, AGI Government Affairs Intern.

Posted August 10, 1998; Last updated August 20, 1998

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