GOP Senators Move Trump EPA Pick Ahead as Dems Boycott Vote

Seats on the Democrat’s side of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing room are empty  Wednesday, during a boycott to thwart the confirmation vote on EPA Administrator-designate Scott Pruitt. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Republicans suspended Senate committee rules Thursday to muscle President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency toward confirmation after Democrats boycotted a vote.

It was the latest sign of political hostilities on Capitol Hill as Senate Democrats used parliamentary procedure to delay votes on some of Trump’s Cabinet nominees, and Republicans used their slim Senate majority to advance and approve them.

Also Thursday, two Senate committees voted along party lines to send Trump’s nominee to lead the White House budget office, South Carolina GOP Rep. Mick Mulvaney, to the full Senate for a vote.

Budget Director-designate Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Budget Committee on Jan. 24. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

As the scheduled meeting to discuss EPA nominee Scott Pruitt was gaveled to order, the seats reserved for the 10 Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee were empty for the second consecutive day. Committee rules required that at least two members of the minority party be present for a vote to be held.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., (R) confers with Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., Wednesday, as the panel recesses following a boycott by Democrats to thwart the confirmation of Scott Pruitt. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The 11 Republicans voted unanimously to temporarily suspend those rules and then voted again to advance the nomination of Pruitt, the state attorney general of Oklahoma.

Committee chairman John Barrasso accused the absent Democrats of engaging in delay and obstruction.

“It is unprecedented for the minority to delay an EPA administrator for an incoming president to this extent,” Barrasso said. The Wyoming Republican then echoed President Barack Obama’s famous 2009 statement to GOP leaders that “elections have consequences.”

“The people spoke, and now it is time to set up a functioning government,” Barrasso said of the November election. “That includes a functioning EPA.”

EPA Administrator-designate Scott Pruitt at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Jan. 18. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Despite the rhetoric from committee Republicans, the Democrats appeared to have borrowed directly from their opponents’ playbook.

In 2013, GOP members of the same committee boycotted a similar committee meeting on Gina McCarthy, Obama’s then-nominee for EPA administrator. McCarthy was eventually approved by the Senate, serving in the post until Trump’s inauguration last month.

Barrasso has said that is not an “apples-to-apples” comparison, since Obama was not then a new, first-term president building out his team.

Democratic members of the committee said this week that the boycott was necessary because Pruitt has refused to fully respond to requests for additional information.

Democrats did attend meetings of the Senate budget and homeland security committees on Thursday as Republicans voted to approve Mulvaney, Trump’s nominee to lead the White House Budget Office, for a vote by the full Senate. The move came over the opposition of Democrats who warn of his support for cutting rising costs of Medicare and increasing the age for claiming Social Security benefits.

Mulvaney was among tea party lawmakers who backed a government shutdown in 2013 in an attempt to block the Affordable Care Act from taking place. In 2011, he was among those against increasing the government’s borrowing cap.

Mulvaney easily sidestepped a controversy in which he failed to pay payroll taxes on a nanny he employed from 2000-2004.

While Pruitt’s nomination to lead EPA has been praised by Republicans and the fossil fuel industry, Democrats and environmental groups said his confirmation would be a disaster.

“During the campaign, President Trump pledged to dismantle the EPA,” said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group. “In Scott Pruitt, he found just the man to carry out his vision.”

In his current position as Oklahoma’s state attorney general, Pruitt has frequently sued the agency he hopes to lead, including filing a multistate lawsuit opposing the Obama administration’s plan to limit planet-warming carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. Pruitt also sued over the EPA’s recent expansion of water bodies regulated under the Clean Water Act. It has been opposed by industries that would be forced to clean up polluted wastewater.

Like Trump, the 48-year-old Republican has previously cast doubt on the extensive body of scientific evidence showing that the planet is warming and that man-made carbon emissions are to blame. Pressed by Democrats during his Senate confirmation hearing, however, Pruitt said he disagreed with Trump’s earlier claims that global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese to harm the economic competitiveness of the U.S.

“I do not believe climate change is a hoax,” Pruitt said.

Democrats have also criticized Pruitt’s close ties to the oil and gas industry. Though Pruitt ran unopposed for a second term in 2014, campaign finance reports show that he raised more than $700,000, much of it from people in the energy and utility industries.

“Republicans rewrote the rules so that Pruitt can seize control of the EPA and throw critical clean air and water rules out,” said Liz Perera, the climate policy director for the Sierra Club.

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