Senators in standoff over EPA nominee

Posted at 11:21 AM, May 11, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-11 11:21:09-04

By Gregory Wallace, CNN

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The top Democrat on the committee considering President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency indicated late Friday she may attempt to break an impasse over the nomination this week.

Republicans prevented a Thursday vote on the nomination of Gina McCarthy, the assistant administrator of the agency, by boycotting a meeting of the Environment and Public Works committee. GOP members said their questions for McCarthy and the EPA have gone unanswered, a contention the White House disputed.

Then on Friday, committee chairwoman Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, announced another meeting to consider the nomination would be held next week.

“As of the date of the upcoming business meeting, this nomination will have been delayed at your request for four weeks,” she wrote to Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, the top Republican on the panel. “It is time to move forward with her nomination. I hope you will attend.”

Vitter is one of eight Republicans and Boxer is one of 10 Democrats on the committee.

The committee’s rules generally require the presence of two minority members – currently the Republicans – to conduct business.

But an exception to that rule allows the committee to hand off business to the full Senate – the step after committee consideration of a nomination – if “a majority of committee members cast votes in person.” The ten Democrats could, under that rule, constitute a majority of the panel’s 18 members.

It was not clear if Boxer would use that exception to advance the nomination this week if Republicans again boycotted. Boxer has not said whether she would do so, and CNN’s request on the matter was not immediately returned by the Democratic staffers on the committee.

Republican members say committee precedence is on their side. They waited two weeks to move forward in 2003 on a GOP nominee to lead the EPA when Democrats boycotted a meeting.

They wrote to Boxer ahead of last week’s meeting that they “have asked EPA to honor five very reasonable and basic requests in conjunction with the nomination of Gina McCarthy which focus on openness and transparency.”

Although a month has passed since their requests, “EPA has stonewalled on four of the five categories,” they wrote.

Their requests include new policies and a review of using private e-mail accounts to conduct official business and greater transparency in the agency rulemaking process.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday that “there has been an historic level of obstructionism” from Republicans that “is consistent with Republican practice that we saw in earlier nominations this year.”

“We call on Republicans in the Senate to stop gumming up the works when it comes to the confirmation process of nominees who are enormously qualified for the jobs that the president has asked them to fill and to get about the business of confirming them,” he told reporters.

Obama nominated McCarthy as the EPA’s next administrator in March and confirmation hearings were held in April. If confirmed, McCarthy would replace Lisa Jackson, who stepped down as administrator of the agency earlier this year.