WASHINGTON — Gina McCarthy’s confirmation to head the Environmental Protection Agency moved forward Thursday after Republicans ended a boycott to vote her nomination out of committee, but threatened to again stall the process if the agency refuses to meet certain demands for transparency.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee lead by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) passed McCarthy’s confirmation on a 10-8 party line vote.
Because Republicans boycotted last week’s committee meeting when the first vote was initially scheduled, a quorum was not present so the vote could not proceed.
Thursday’s vote took place after the Senate’s oldest member, 89-year-old Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), was escorted in a wheelchair through the Senate office building to attend the committee meeting and secure the quorum.
Lautenberg is suffering from cancer, and the committee vote marked only the second time the ailing lawmaker has traveled to Washington this year.
“We need her strong bipartisan, common sense approach to head this agency,” Boxer said.
“I have never seen a nominee handled this way — holding someone hostage until you get an answer you want to have,” Boxer said.
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) led the boycott because the nominee had not answered nearly 1,000 questions in writing. But until the agency addresses further concerns about email abuses, public access to information, and transparency of science used to impose regulations, Vitter said the confirmation may face new hurdles requiring 60 votes in her favor to pass the full Senate.
When McCarthy’s confirmation does reach the Senate floor in the coming weeks, it also faces a hold placed by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) because of apprehensions over a flood project in his state.
“It’s very clear this EPA has had a pretty dismal transparency record,” said Vitter, blaming the agency’s woes on an “environmental leftist agenda.”
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said the requests are “critical to the taxpayers,” but Boxer disagreed.
“Put aside the filibuster,” she said. “If you don’t like the EPA – you obviously don’t — but the American people don’t. They love it.”
“She is qualified, she is decent,” Boxer said. “I feel very bad for Gina McCarthy right now, still being hung up here with threats.”
Vitter reminded Boxer that Democrats boycotted a committee vote on Michael Leavitt in 2003, President George W. Bush’s nominee to head the agency, resulting in a two week delay.
“We’re not asking the EPA to change its policy. We’re asking for openness and transparency as required by law,” Vitter said.
McCarthy already works for the EPA as a key regulator of air quality. She has served in several Republican administrations including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell.
McCarthy frustrated Republicans during her confirmation hearing last month when she avoided answering questions from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, pledging instead to consider or study a particular issue. She specifically declined to answer questions on the Obama administration’s plans for crafting new regulations to address global warming.