The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee was scheduled to vote today at 9:15 on the nomination of Gina McCarthy to be the next EPA Administrator. Despite the fact that she has answered more than a thousand of the committee’s questions, Senate Republicans announced just before the hearing that they would be boycotting the vote, denying the committee quorum and postponing the confirmation hearing.
The committee rules require that at least two members of the minority party be present during a vote. Not a single Republican bothered to show up.
Senator Barbara Boxer, Chair of the committee, still held a meeting, allowing the Democrats in attendance to try to explain to the American people why they still have no EPA Administrator. The ostensible reason that the Republicans boycotted today’s vote was because they said she did not satisfactorily answer their questions. Senator Boxer reminded those present that Gina McCarthy has already answered more than a thousand questions from the committee and moreover is eminently qualified with an excellent track record of working with the business community and and both parties to do her job. Boxer later floated the idea of changing the rules of the committee so that a boycott such as this would not gum up the works. She urged her GOP colleagues to listen to the many “mainstream” Republicans who support Gina McCarthy’s nomination and “get out of the fringe lane.” If senators oppose a nominee, they should show up and vote against the nominee, not hold the process hostage for ideological reasons.
In 2009, the Senate easily confirmed the highly qualified McCarthy by a voice vote to head the Clean Air division of the EPA. With nearly three decades of experience working at the local, state and federal levels, McCarthy has been a champion for clean air and has even won plaudits from Republican leaders. She has received extensive support from business, health officials, environmental organizations and scientists, who have repeatedly suggested she is willing to work with all sides to find the best outcome.
At her confirmation hearing last month, Ms. McCarthy answered the committee’s questions and the Republican members failed to pin anything on her. Instead they focused on climate denier talking points and questions about instant messenger (something that McCarthy jovially admitted she was too old to know how to use.)
At today’s meeting, Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) argued that she deserved a vote because she answered all the questions that had been asked of her. He said that former EPA Administrators were used to questions (400 for Mike Leavitt, 100 for Lisa Jackson), but Ms. McCarthy’s 1,000 was unprecedented. “It’s bad for our country,” he said, when Senators fail to do their jobs to ensure that the executive branch does not turn into a “swiss cheese” of vacant seats, acting administrators, and delayed appointments.
Carper said she has been a proven public servant: “The president didn’t nominate somebody we don’t know. He nominated somebody who’d been unanimously confirmed by this committee and I think maybe by the senate” for her current position at the EPA.
Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) spoke more broadly about the “pattern” of legislators shirking their responsibilities, thundering, “this is wrong!” He pointed out that Jeff Holmstead, former EPA air chief under George W. Bush, said “McCarthy has shown a willingness to listen to and understand industry’s legitimate concerns.” William Becker, head of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said “She’s brutally honest, very fair, humorous, and an incredibly hard worker. She’s not an ideologue. She’s a practitioner.”
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said that once the minority party showed up and McCarthy got 10 votes in the committee, the nomination would then go the to floor of the Senate. There, he argued that Majority Leader Reid should amend the rules such that the majority party had the ability to confirm nominees with 51 votes. As the committee Democrats spoke, Senator Reid was on the senate floor, speaking about the larger problem of Republican obstructionism:
Just this morning, the Republican members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee sent a letter to Chairman Boxer indicating they will boycott committee markup of Ms. McCarthy’s nomination. This type of blanket, partisan obstruction used to be unheard of. Now it has become an unacceptable pattern.
Senator Boxer closed the hearing promising to take this obstructionist story to the American people. “Gina McCarthy is a woman who deserves this promotion.” As EPA administrator, McCarthy would build upon her record of success in both the Obama Administration and the state-level programs she helped put into place for both Republican and Democratic governors.
Three Senate Republicans who boycotted Thursday’s scheduled vote on President Obama’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had fundraisers scheduled on the same day, at least two of which were hosted by energy industry lobbyists, according to invitations obtained by the Sunlight Foundation’s Political Party Time website.