The eight Republicans on the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee declined to attend a vote on the nomination of Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency.
Instead, the GOP senators held a press conference criticizing what they described as the EPA’s lack of transparency.
Republicans are concerned about the use of personal email accounts within the agency in order to potentially shield communications from public disclosure. They also want clarity regarding the data used to promulgate rules under the Clean Air Act, as well as a practice they call “sue and settle” lawsuits.
“For too long EPA has failed to deliver on the promises of transparency espoused by President Barack Obama, former Administrator Lisa Jackson, and by Gina McCarthy,” they wrote in a statement Thursday morning.
California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, who chairs the committee, accused the absent Republican senators of “holding Gina McCarthy hostage to their pro-polluter fringe philosophy.”
“Their opposition shows how outside the mainstream they are; it shows how obstructionist they are; it shows how their pledge to do better with women voters is false,” Boxer said.
In 2003, committee Democrats similarly chose not to attend the confirmation hearing of Michael Leavitt, President Bush’s nominee to head the EPA. In that case, the official mark-up was scheduled for two weeks later. The Senate Republicans asked Boxer for a two-week delay.
It has been two months since President Obama’s nomination of McCarthy to run the EPA. Senators asked McCarthy a record number of 1,100 questions during the confirmation process, compared to the 300 questions senators asked Leavitt.
Democrats on the committee expressed frustration with what they called a Republican pattern of “obstructionism.” They cited recent efforts to stop votes on Caitlin Halligan, a judicial nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, as well as Thomas Perez, the Labor secretary nominee.
“If this is the Republican Party’s new outreach to women and Latinos, this is not good outreach to be just throwing sand in the gears for very qualified nominees because they won’t agree with you,” said Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who caucuses with the Democrats.
Democrats called for a change to the Senate’s procedural rules to force a vote McCarthy’s nomination.
“You know why some of us are going to be in favor of reforming the rules of the Senate? It’s because of abuses like this,” Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin said.
“I would respectfully urge the majority leader to allow 50 or 51 votes on the floor to bring forth not only the nomination of Gina but other nominations where obstructionism is taking place,” said Sanders. “I think it is time for the Democratic leaders to do what the American people want and that is to have majority rule in the Senate.”
Boxer responded that she would “look at our parliamentary options, including changing the rules of this committee.”
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