President Donald J. Trump’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma Attorney General E. Scott Pruitt, cleared his first hurdle en route to Senate confirmation with an unusual one-party vote by the Environment and Public Works Committee — a vote boycotted by the committee’s Democrats.
“Let me make clear to everyone what just happened,” said Sen. John A. Barrasso III (R.-Wyo.), the committee’s chairman.
“Yesterday, the minority members of the committee chose to boycott our business meeting because they do not support the nomination of Scott Pruitt,” he said. “As we pointed out yesterday, elections have consequences and a new president is entitled to put in place people who will advance his agenda, the agenda that the people voted for when they elected him president.”
A senior committee staffer told Breitbart News that committee rules require at least seven senators with at least two present from the minority for a quorum.
After Democrats on the committee, led by Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D.-Del.), refused to participate in Thursday’s committee meeting, it was unable to proceed with a vote on Pruitt, the source said. Carper is the committee’s top Democrat.
The source said Barrasso came to work today still thinking that the Democrats, having made their point on Pruitt with the boycott, would participate in the postponed vote, but he had already worked out a solution.
After Wednesday’s boycott, the chairman told his members: “To the members of this committee, I tell you I pledge to move the nomination of Attorney General Scott Pruitt to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency as expeditiously as possible.”
Brasso then worked with the Senate parliamentarian, who approved the suspension of the committee rules, which would proceed without the jeopardy of a point of order objection to the Senate floor, the source said.
The former chairwoman of the committee, retired California Democratic senator Barbara Boxer, also suspended the rules in order to advance legislation.
The Wyoming senator said at Thursday’s hearing that he was disappointed that Senate Democrats had forced the situation upon him.
“The minority has put us in unchartered waters,” he said. “Never before in the history of the EPA has a new president’s incoming administrator nominee been boycotted.”
Carper said in a statement that Senate Democrats on the committee were not satisfied with Pruitt’s answers to questions that he said were incomplete.
“I am disappointed that our majority has decided to ignore our concerns and those of the American people and break the committee’s rules in an effort to expedite Mr. Pruitt’s nomination, but we have to stand our ground in our pursuit of the truth and in fulfillment of our Constitutional duty with respect to nominations,” he said.
“We cannot advise the full Senate on whether Scott Pruitt will lead the EPA in a manner that will protect the public’s heath in the absence of critical information about his record and we cannot consent to move his nomination forward until the Committee does its job and gets those answers,” he said.
Another Democrat on the committee, Sen. Edward J. Markey (D.-Mass.), said he Pruitt did not fully answer questions from Democrats.
“For more than a month, Mr. Pruitt has not fully responded to inquiries, questions for the record, or requests for information on his record and views on clean air, clean water, and climate change and other matters that are fundamental to his qualifications for the job of running the EPA,” Markey said. “We cannot fully judge Mr. Pruitt’s positions nor assess potential conflicts of interests that would impact his service at the EPA without responses to our questions for the record.”
Barrasso said that he dismissed the idea that the Democrats were worried about Pruitt answering their questions.
The complaints about Attorney General Pruitt’s answers to questions is simply a smokescreen,” he said. “Let me be clear, the leadership of the minority chose to do a blanket boycott of many of the president’s nominees in committees across the Senate regardless of their merit. The minority wants political theater. The nation needs a new EPA administrator.”
Pruitt’s confirmation has not yet been scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor.