Republican senators refused Thursday to attend a scheduled committee vote on President Barack Obama's nominee as the nation's top air and water quality regulator.
At least one Republican senator, Roy Blunt of Missouri, has a hold on Gina McCarthy's nomination to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. And the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, David Vitter of Louisiana, asked McCarthy a record-breaking 653 questions. Those questions, in addition to queries from other Republicans, are considered to be the most ever asked of an administration nominee facing Senate confirmation.
McCarthy serves as the agency’s assistant administrator in charge of air and radiation. The Senate unanimously confirmed her for that job during the first Obama administration. Previously, she worked as a state environmental regulator for Obama’s 2012 opponent, Republican former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
The chairwoman of the committee, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., called the GOP move "obstructionist." The vote has been held up for three weeks already to give Republicans time to get their questions answered, Boxer said. They're not going to like the answers, Boxer said, because they don't favor what she called a "pro-pollution fringe philosophy."
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"Their opposition, even to allowing us to vote, shows how out of the mainstream they are," Boxer said of Republicans. "It shows how their pledge to do better with women voters is false."
Vitter said in a letter to Boxer that they didn't expect Democrats on the committee to agree with their decision. They noted that in 2003, Democratic members of the committee chose not to attend the scheduled vote on Michael Leavitt as President Bush's nominee to head the EPA until the agency responded "more fully to their requests."
"Then-Chairman Inhofe followed the rules cited above and scheduled an official mark-up for two weeks later," Vitter wrote. "We ask and expect that you do the same."
McCarthy’s confirmation hearing in April pitted distinct ideological camps against each other: Republican senators who said the nominee would head a federal agency that has a heavy regulatory hand, including on climate change, and Democrats who argue that EPA air-quality rules save lives and create the conditions for a healthy environment and a strong economy.
Republican senators on the committee include Vitter, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, John Boozman of Arkansas, and Deb Fisher of Nebraska.