Key senator wasn’t notified about Salazar selection to head interior

Sen. Dianne Feinstein wasn’t the only Senate committee chief surprised by an Obama Cabinet pick. New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who runs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, “never got official notice” that Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar would be nominated to head the Department of Interior, or that scientist Steven Chu would be tapped as secretary of energy, the Los Angeles Times reports Monday in an article about tension between the new administration and Congress. Bingaman’s committee staff “pestered aides on the Obama transition team for clues” and eventually “(ferreted) out the names through their own efforts.”

Last week, when news leaked that Leon Panetta was President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to lead the CIA, Feinstein at first was less than enthusiastic about the selection and sounded more than miffed that she had to learn about it through press reports rather than from the Obama transition team. After a public kerfuffle, Panetta unruffled Feinstein’s feathers with a phone call and won over the support of the California Democrat, who heads the intelligence committee.

Bingaman didn’t raise a ruckus when Salazar’s name emerged as the next secretary of the interior, but the Times lumps former Sen. Obama’s misstep with other “collisions with his former colleagues,” including complaints about miscommunication over the stimulus package.

“Did Bingaman receive a phone call from Obama, Biden or [transition co-chairman John] Podesta? No, he did not,” a committee aide said. “We were very curious and wanted to keep our chairman informed. At our initiative, we pressed these [Obama staff] guys pretty hard. And through breaking news and leaks and our own undisclosed sources and through our own people working on the inside, we did know in advance.

Feinstein and Bingaman weren’t alone, the Times reports. California’s other senator, Environment and Public Works Committee Chief Barbara Boxer, had to learn from the press that Obama had selected Lisa Jackson to head the Environmental Protection Agency and Carol Browner as climate change czar.

“Maybe it’s because he didn’t want a lot of people knowing his choices, didn’t want to leak things out,” Boxer told the Times. “That could be. But I think the chair of a committee can be trusted.”