WASHINGTON—Republicans on Thursday dropped their efforts to stall President Obama’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, and her chief antagonist in the Senate conditionally promised to help her avoid a filibuster as the confirmation battle heads to its final step.
The nomination of Gina McCarthy was approved by the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works by a party-line vote of 10-8, with all Democrats favoring her and Republicans voting against her. The nomination now goes to the full Senate.
McCarthy’s prospects for heading the agency may have received the biggest boost after Senator David Vitter, the Louisiana Republican who had been her chief antagonist, dropped his threat to block her nomination on the Senate floor.
Last week, Republicans, led by Vitter, the committee’s ranking member, staged a walkout to deny her the presence of the minority party, which is required in most instances in order for a nominee to be approved by the committee.
But Vitter—notwithstanding his vote Thursday against her nomination—pledged to see that McCarthy is approved by the Senate without a filibuster block or a 60-vote requirement on the condition that the EPA make progress on five transparency requests he sent to the agency this week.
“As of last night, there has been significant progress,” Vitter said of his dealings with the EPA.
However, the threat of a Republican filibuster in the Senate has not vanished.
Missouri Senator Roy Blunt has said he will block her nomination in the Senate over a controversial flood control program in his state that has been held up by the EPA for review.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said McCarthy “would continue to foster this administration’s radical environmental and anti-coal jobs agenda.”
Republican efforts to stall McCarthy’s nomination had focused on the EPA’s policies under the Obama administration rather than McCarthy herself. Vitter alone sent 653 questions to McCarthy, demanding written, comprehensive answers, ahead of her nomination. All together McCarthy received 1,120 questions — which Democrats believe set a new record for cabinet nominees.
Speaking after the vote, Vitter said the nomination was a good opportunity to get answers he needed from the EPA.
“Obviously a nomination event is a big opportunity for something like this,” Vitter said. “It’s just a shame it takes this because everything we’re talking about is basically required under law.”
Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer of California chastised Vitter’s approach of blocking McCarthy based on his qualms with the agency rather than the person nominated to chair it.
“It’s kind of holding somebody hostage to get an answer that you want to have,” Boxer said.