As the Senate’s Democratic majority prepares to meet Thursday to consider filibuster reform for presidential appointees, one Republican Senator is demonstrating precisely why the current system is broken. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), the vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, reaffirmed Tuesday that he will attempt to prevent allowing a confirmation vote on Gina McCarthy, President Obama’s nominee to be EPA administrator, because he is unhappy that the agency has not moved quickly enough on a levee project in his state.
President Obama nominated McCarthy more than four months ago to head the Environmental Protection Agency — a cabinet-level position. Though the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee endorsed her nomination in May, Blunt announced that he would place a “hold” on her confirmation.
Blunt reiterated yesterday that he will continue that hold until he gets his way on an unrelated topic. Rather than objecting to McCarthy’s qualifications, ideology, or temperament, the Missouri Republican has been candid that she is making her confirmation his hostage to get a levee constructed. “I’m placing a hold on the EPA Administrator until the Obama Administration can provide us with a concrete timeline for progress on the St. Johns Bayou and New Madrid Floodway Project,” he explained. After administration officials sent him an update Monday noting progress, Blunt continued to complain that “internal disagreement [between EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Fish and Wildlife Service] surrounding the fundamental facts has caused an unacceptable and prolonged delay” of the environmental impact statement.
This means Blunt still intends to hold up McCarthy’s nomination, blocking a speedy up-or-down majority vote. While a three-fifth’s super-majority can circumvent this kind of obstruction, the process is time-consuming and requires at least six Senate Republicans to cross party lines to end his promised roadblock to her nomination.
Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has opposed cloture reform, claiming, “The president’s been treated very fairly on both his judicial branch nominees and his executive branch nominees, and we continue to treat them fairly.” But McConnell and Blunt have been among the minority of members blocking confirmation votes for numerous nominees including McCarthy, Circuit Judge nominee Caitlin Halligan, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director Richard Cordray, and several other exceptionally qualified nominees.
The U.S. Constitution sets out a clear system in which the President gets to nominate executive branch officials, judges, and others “by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate.” But it is a clear sign that the process has broken down when Blunt and others in the minority insist on blocking the majority from even considering that consent, in hopes of using their intransigence as leverage for unrelated personal agendas.