Secretary of the Interior nominee David Bernhardt had his confirmation hearing in the Senate yesterday.
As Interior Secretary, Bernhardt would be responsible for managing and sustaining the USA's natural environment, animals, and natural resources. Environmental groups have concerns about his appointment as he has served as a lobbyist and lawyer for the oil industry, and took cases that actively tried to roll back protections for endangered species.
"Bernhardt got this nomination as a reward for months of work cramming America’s natural heritage into a wood chipper," Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said of his nomination by Trump in February. "Confirming him as Interior Secretary would be a boon to polluters and a colossal disaster for our public lands and endangered species".
As such, Bernhardt faced tough questions from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
"You are so conflicted," Oregon Senator Ron Wyden said to Bernhardt during the hearing, NPR reports. "You're going to have to disqualify yourself from so many matters that I don't know how you're going to spend your day."
Bernhardt attempted to reassure the committee he will work "to reduce regulatory burdens without sacrificing environmental outcomes."
However, all of this was overshadowed both by his record and, a little more noticeably, the people wearing swamp monster masks surrounding him.
In surreal scenes, several protesters pulled swamp monster masks from their possessions and put them on as the hearing began.
The hearing continued whilst behind him it looked like a scene from a remake of the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
The protestors, organized by Greenpeace, were there to highlight that Trump had campaigned on the promise that he would "drain the swamp".
"As we know, he's done the exact opposite – and Bernhardt might be the most blatant example of that," Greenpeace wrote on Twitter.
"David Bernhardt heading the Interior Department would be a dream come true for fossil fuel companies, but a nightmare for the American people. If ethical violations alone don’t disqualify him from holding this position, his record of selling out public lands and waters to his industry buddies should," Janet Redman, Greenpeace USA Climate and Energy Campaign Director, added in a statement.
The protesters remained peaceful and silent during the hearing.
“Our purpose was not to disrupt the hearing, it was really to bring in absurdity to the hearing,” masked protestor Irene Kim told Bloomberg News. “I made every effort to not be a disturbance, I kept my butt glued to my seat, I did not make any noise. I think we inspired a lot of people and made them laugh when it’s a time of a lot of discouragement right now.”
Nevertheless, they were eventually led out of the hearing.
But not before a series of surreal photos could be taken, which have now been widely circulated online, drawing attention to Bernhardt's track record.
As well as the sudden appearance of swamp monsters, there were also concerns about the hearing itself.
"His former lobbying firm have donated almost $1 million to senators who will vote on his confirmation since 2013," Greenpeace wrote on Twitter. "Including more than $225,000 to members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee."