By Timothy Cama - 02-01-17 10:57 AM EST
Senate Democrats on Wednesday boycotted a committee vote on President Trump's pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), preventing the GOP from moving his confirmation forward.
None of the Democrats on the Environment and Public Works panel, led by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), went into the meeting room, depriving the committee of the two minority party members it requires for a quorum to vote on Scott Pruitt.
Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee took a similar strategy Tuesday, boycotting a meeting to consider Treasury secretary nominee Steve Mnuchin and Education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos.
The Finance Committee's Republicans bypassed the boycott Wednesday by voting to change the panel's rules and allow a vote without Democrats, something the Environment panel could do to get Pruitt approved.
Committee Republicans slammed the Democrats' decision to boycott a vote on Pruitt, saying he answered more questions and was subjected to a longer hearing - nearly seven hours - than any previous EPA nominee.
Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) called the Democrats' boycott "political theater."
Pruitt's hearing "was historic in its length of time for member questions to the nominee," he said.
"Attorney General Pruitt has answered more question than any EPA nominee in recent memory. ... The minority may not like all of Attorney General Pruitt's answers, but he's given them answers."
Barrasso declined to say whether he would ask his colleagues to change the committee's rules to allow the vote, as the Finance Committee did.
"We're going to make sure that Scott Pruitt is reported from the committee to the floor and he gets confirmed to be administrator of the EPA," he said when asked directly about a rules change.
He said he would meet today with Carper to try to figure out a way forward.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the committee's former chairman and a Pruitt supporter, read a list of lengthy questions Democrats asked of the nominee after his hearing, including requests for information dating back 20 years.
"He answered 1,000 more questions than any other administrator nominee in the last three presidential administrations," Inhofe said.
"It's time, I think, that we move on and get him voted out, and he will make a great administrator of the EPA and a refreshing change."
The committee's Democrats said that while they do not object to holding a vote on Pruitt, he has not provided them with the information they need to make an informed decision.
"This is kind of an affront to the Senate's role in advising and consenting to the president's nominations," Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) told reporters outside the meeting room. "I will not participate in any way possible with moving someone along who has allowed a thorough vetting."
Their specific problems revolve around Pruitt's involvement in political groups that the Democrats labeled as "dark money" groups, and his office's backlog in providing answers to an open records request for Pruitt's communications with fossil fuel companies.
"We are being totally stonewalled on two very reasonable, very specific factual requests that any, any nominee ought to produce," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).
"And I can assure you that if the shoe were on the other foot, Republicans would be howling about the emails," he continued, comparing the situation to the controversies surrounding Hillary Clinton's emails during the 2016 presidential election.
"I take no joy in not being a full participant in this business meeting today," said Sen. Tom Carper (Del.), the panel's top Democrat.
Democrats also complained that Pruitt is too close to the fossil fuel companies he would be responsible for regulating as EPA administrator.
"For us, the question is, will Mr. Pruitt be a good steward of the environment, would he be a good counterbalance, if you will, to the clear intentions of the president? And my belief is - and I believe the belief is shared by my colleagues - is that no, he will not," Carper said.
Carper laid out many of the Democrats' objections in a letter Tuesday to Barrasso asking that the vote be delayed. Barrasso rejected the plea.
"The committee Democrats are deeply concerned about the lack of thoroughness of Mr. Pruitt's responses to our questions for the record," Carper wrote to Barrasso.
"I ask you to direct Mr. Pruitt to disclose information requested by Democratic members with the same level of transparency that this committee has required of past nominees."Barrasso quickly shot down the request, saying Pruitt has met all of the requirements for a committee vote.
"The committee's review of Attorney General Pruitt's nomination has been unparalleled in its scrutiny, thoroughness, and respect for minority rights," he wrote.
"Attorney General Pruitt has answered more questions than any past EPA administrator nominee. He has been comprehensively vetted and has demonstrated his qualifications to lead the EPA."
Committee Republicans used a similar tactic in 2013 when they were in the minority, boycotting the committee vote to confirm Gina McCarthy as EPA administrator.
The GOP gave up on their boycott and let the panel vote go through once McCarthy agreed to certain conditions, like training employees on email use and establishing an expert panel on economic modeling.
Barrasso said the GOP's 2013 boycott was different because President Obama was years into his term when it happened.
"A newly elected president, I believe, has a right to their cabinet," he told reporters after the meeting, adding that each of the previous three presidents had his EPA administrator confirmed his first week in office.
Devin Henry contributed.
- Updated at 12:02 p.m.