My day on the Hill with Obama Interior Secretary pick Sally Jewell

Sally Jewell Senate confirmation hearing-2

REI CEO and Interior Secretary nominee Sally Jewell just minutes before a Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

I got an unexpected introduction to President Obama’s interior secretary nominee Sally Jewell yesterday.

Coverage from Washington D.C.
made possible by:

I was riding around DC, observing bike traffic and taking photos, when I got a text from a friend who works at Travel Oregon: “Want to go to Senate confirmation hearing for Sally Jewell? It’s at 10am.”

It was just after 9:30 am and I was about one-and-a-half miles from the hearing room on Capitol Hill. I have been following the Jewell nomination for a few weeks now. Jewell lives in Seattle and she seems like someone who understands how bicycling should fit into our forests and public lands. As CEO of REI with a solid record of conservation and recreation, bike advocacy and industry leaders see her potential selection as very good news.

So, despite not having time to change out of my jeans and cycling cap, I pointed my Capital Bikeshare bike east on Pennsylvania Avenue’s bike lanes and hustled up to Capitol Hill. I knew the hearing would be packed and I was worried my somewhat informal attire might attract unwanted attention. So, before finding my place in line outside hearing room 366 in the Dirksen Senate office building, I put on the longest lens in my bag and tried too look professional.

Almost immediately, a man in a suit approached me: “Are you media?”.

“Yes,” I answered.

“OK, you can go right in,” he replied.

I didn’t allow myself to smile for fear of blowing my cover as just some bike blogger from Portland with a rented camera.

Once inside the hearing room, I noticed it was already standing-room only. There were two long tables at either side full of people using laptops (journalists I assume) and rows and rows of very well-dressed people awaiting the full committee of Senators to find their seats. The room was regal by all accounts; just like I’d seen on C-SPAN and in the movies.

At first I stood, somewhat awkwardly, in the back of the room. Then I looked toward the front of room and saw a bunch of photographers on a section of the floor between the elevated seats lined up in a semi-circle (where the Senators sit) and the table with Sally Jewell’s nameplate. I was a bit nervous about this whole thing already, but I realized, given my attire and the huge camera around my neck, I belonged up front with the rest of the photographers.

With a focused, I’m-just-doing-my-job look on my face, I shuffled between the suits and skirts and found my place in the photographer’s pit. A few minutes later, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairman, and a dozen or so other Senators had taken their seats. And Ms. Jewell was sitting just a few feet from the end of my lens.

I couldn’t believe it! Here I was, sitting in a Senate hearing room for an important meeting and I had the best seat in the house. What luck!

Sally Jewell Senate confirmation hearing-4

The pit.
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Sally Jewell Senate confirmation hearing-9

Sally Jewell Senate confirmation hearing-6

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L to R: Sen. Patty Murray, Sally Jewell, Sen. Maria Cantwell.
Sally Jewell Senate confirmation hearing-5

Sen. Ron Wyden

I mostly focused on getting some good images of Jewell, but I also scribbled a few notes.

Sen. Wyden told the committe that, “Balance will be the key challenge,” of Jewell’s job if she’s selected. He also gave a shout out to his home state of Oregon, saying we have many “resource management issues” including timber, water, and renewable energy.

In her opening remarks, the senior Republican on the committee Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told Jewell she’d have to see our public lands and forests as, “Not just a playground for recreational users, but also paychecks for countless energy producers, miners, loggers and ranchers.”

Jewell was flanked on either side by her own Senators, Washington Democrats Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.

Sen. Murray touted Jewell’s diverse background in both the corporate and conservation fields and called her, “A gem from the northwest.”

Sen. Cantwell had my favorite quote of the hearing. On Jewell’s policy approach, Cantwell said, “Science will be her compass, not an idealogical bent.”

For her part, Jewell presented herself well in this high-stress limelight. Here are a few quotes from her opening remarks:

“The tug of the northwest was strong for me.” (She was explaining her move back to Seattle from Denver.)

“I have a deep appreciation for the creativity, entrepreneurship, and the commitment of our nations business people — not only for econ development, but also to the support and development of their communities and the care of their environment.”

“I have a commitment to the President’s ‘all of the above’ energy policy.”

“We have a generation of children growing up with a disconnect from nature.”

“We must ensure our open spaces, trails, and parks are both successful and relevant to people from all backgrounds.”

“On climate change, the President has made it clear that climate change is an important issue for our nation. We’ve experienced, storms, wildfires, droughts and floods, and if confirmed for this position I look forward to tapping the vast scientific resources of the Department of the Interior, like the US Geological Survey, the Department of Fish & Wildlife, and other agencies of the fed government to understand and prepare for the impacts of climate change.”

Jewell seems like an excellent candidate and I’ll continue to follow her nomination.

This was a great experience! Thank you to Kristin Dahl of Travel Oregon for telling me about the hearing and special thanks to Pro Photo Supply in northwest Portland for providing me with the awesome Nikon D4 and pro-level lenses that made me feel like I belonged next to veteran and professional Capitol Hill photogs.

Read full coverage of the hearing from the New York Times.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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11 years ago

Great job Jonathon // (where’s that hand clap/applause icon ?)

Dan Liu
11 years ago
Reply to  Tom

Yes, well done! Also, you were able to put C-Span and “the movies” on the same level, which is always great in my book.

11 years ago

Nice job, Jonathan; and well told, too.

understand and prepare for the impacts of climate change”

And so it goes.
We just skipped right over the avoid, prevent, avert, minimize, part, didn’t we?

11 years ago
Reply to  9watts

Unless you can convince Kang and Kodos to impose benevolent despotic rule upon the entire planet simultaneously we are likely left to the loving embrace of the rule of economic greed.

Just think of how much profit can be made from the personal climate mitigation market? Sure there is no market NOW for breathing masks, UVC & UVB proof clothing, floating houses and Dune style water capture suits but we owe it to ourselves not to deny all those future jobs from ever existing.

(note: sarcasm)

11 years ago
Reply to  9watts

Looks like Jewell has no vision or spine when it comes to issues that really matter:

“Last week, Secretary Jewell was directly challenged about her plans to place a moratorium on federal coal leasing when she visited Oregon. […] Secretary Jewell declined to answer the question directly, instead offering some comments on the importance of public engagement; ‘The coal export issue goes well beyond just the resource part that we have, and I think that public engagement is very important in that process to understand what all the issues are so they can be out on the table and transparently discussed.’
The problem is, the federal coal leasing program has been run for the benefit of the coal industry for decades, with very little public engagement, or even much consideration of the public at all. Secretary Jewell can change that, but today’s coal lease shows that the federal coal leasing program continues to undermine President Obama’s commitment to address climate change.”

11 years ago

Whoa, nice covert journalism Jonathan!

11 years ago

Maybe Sally can “bring it” for climate change in a way she was never able to do at REI. At one point REI had a zero carbon goal but tossed the plan because the competition was no so incumbered. What replaced it was a “ship anything for free” policy and much feel-good nonsense.

Kiel Johnson / Go By Bike
Kiel Johnson
11 years ago

Cool, it is exciting to see her nomination, I was friends with her son in high school!

Dan Packard
Dan Packard
11 years ago

Way to go! Excellent pictures of our NW delegation.

Alan 1.0
Alan 1.0
11 years ago

30 minutes and 1.5 miles! By car, the chore of finding parking in DC would take most of that time and you’d still be nowhere close to the Dirksen Bdg. By foot, that’s close to breaking a sweat with zero time to pass security and find the room. Your own bike–after the hassle and expense of air travel–would get you there, but would there be secure lock-up? But Capital Bikeshare! Check the app to find a kiosk with an opening, 12 minute ride, dump the bike, 5 minute walk and you’re at your destination with time to spare. Score for bikeshare!

Nice story, Jonathan. I have high hopes and best wishes for Jewell.