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Beltway Confidential

Democrats threaten to change rules after GOP boycotts EPA nominee

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Beltway Confidential,Environment,Michal Conger

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said she will do everything possible, including changing the rules of the Environment and Public Works Committee, to force a vote on Gina McCarthy, President Obama’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

Boxer and other committee Democrats said a Republican boycott of this morning’s hearing amounted to an abuse of Senate rules, and a “pattern of obstructionism” on Obama’s nominees for key posts is cause for changing the rules to allow a vote.

“We will look at all our parliamentary options, including changing the rules of this committee, which I don’t know if we can do it with just the majority, but we’re going to look into it,” said Boxer, who heads the committee.

“It is my intention, if they continue this obstructionism, to vote this nominee out with just the minority,” she added later.

The eight Republicans on the committee refused to show up at Thursday morning’s hearing over transparency concerns with the EPA, which they said haven’t been answered. The senators said in a letter this morning they asked Boxer on April 25 to delay today’s hearing, and were denied.

“You know why some of us are going to be in favor of reforming the rules of the Senate? It’s because of abuses like this,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.

“If we don’t exercise majority rule, we are to blame,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Committee rules specify at least two members of the minority must be present for a vote to take place, according to the Republicans’ letter.

Republicans are more concerned with obstructing Obama’s nominees than they are with getting answers to their questions, Cardin charged, noting Republicans also delayed a vote on Labor Secretary nominee Thomas Perez on Wednesday.

“It has nothing to do with information not being made available; it has everything to do with obstructionism,” he said.

The absence of Republicans didn’t stop committee members from expressing their outrage at the delay and at Republicans’ “fringe” political views.

“It shows their pledge to do better with women voters is false,” Boxer said. “How could you have a more qualified woman than Gina McCarthy?”

Republicans are blocking McCarthy, currently assistant administrator for the EPA Office of Air and Radiation, because they oppose the EPA’s clean air and water rules, Boxer said.

“Get out of the fringe lane!” Boxer exclaimed. “I don’t know who they want to head the EPA, maybe the head of some polluting oil company or coal company?”

The Republican senators sent a letter to Gina McCarthy on April 10 asking for a response to concerns about transparency at the EPA, including the agency’s email practices; the scientific data it uses in its rulemaking process; its economic analysis of rules; and what the senators called its practice of playing the “sue-and-settle” game.

On four of their five requests, the EPA has given no response, the senators said. The agency has said it is working on reforming its email policy to comply with Freedom of Information Act rules. That concession came after the EPA’s email and open records policies came under public scrutiny when it was forced to release emails from former Administrator Lisa Jackson and Jackson’s alias “Richard Windsor” email account.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was supportive of Thursday’s boycott.

“It should come as no surprise that the Obama administration continues to stonewall reasonable information requests from Republicans on the EPW Committee, information that is crucial to their advice-and-consent role in this nomination,” he said in a statement.

“For example, the Obama administration’s refusal to provide the underlying data used to justify EPA’s job-killing regulations calls into serious question as to whether there’s any scientific basis for these policies which are destroying jobs in Kentucky and around the country. Our constituents deserve to see if there is anything other than ideology and politics behind these burdensome regulations.”

The Republican senators on the committee are David Vitter, R-La..;  James Inhofe, R-Okla..; John Barrasso, R-Wyo.; Jeff Sessions, R-Ala..; Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; Roger Wicker, R-Miss.; John Boozman, R-Ark.;  and Deb Fischer, R-Neb.

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