The Senate confirmed Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to be the next administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, 52-46, on the Friday before Congress leaves for a week-long Presidents Day recess.
“As I come here to the floor: I chaired the committee, the Environment and Public Works Committee, on Scott Pruitt’s nomination,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R.-Wyo.) in the minutes before the bipartisan vote that saw two Democrats joining the Republican majority, West Virginia’s Sen. Joseph Manchin and North Dakota’s Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. One Republican voted against the nomination, Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins.
“I listened to six and a half hours of testimony,” Barrasso said. “I listened and read through responses that he gave to 1,200 questions being asked of him. He gave thorough answers. Perhaps not the answer the Democrats wanted to hear but answers that I felt were responsive.”
Barrasso took the nomination out of his committee by invoking a special rule approved by the Senate parliamentarian office, because Democrats boycotted the committee’s vote on Pruitt, which robbed the committee of a quorum.
The chairman said despite the opposition from Senate Democrats, Pruitt was an excellent choice to run the EPA. “He is a nominee who, as Attorney General in Oklahoma, protected the environment, worked to strengthen the economy, and stood up for state’s rights, which continues to be most crucial.”
Outsider businessman Sen. David Perdue (R.-Ga.) said 0n the Senate floor Pruitt is the key man for lifting the regulatory burden off the private enonomy.
“Scott Pruitt will return some sanity to the EPA, which over the past eight years has overzealously issued thousands of regulations with little environmental benefit, all while ignoring the high economic cost,” he said.
“I look forward to working with Mr. Pruitt and President Trump to scale back the EPA and provide farmers, businesses, and the American people with some relief after eight years of blatant overreach,” he said.
Senate Democrats did not have the votes to defeat Pruitt’s nomination, but they exercised the option to use all 30 hours of debate allotted to each confirmation, as they have with most of the other nominees.
To eat up the clock, Senate Republicans have extended the chamber’s sessions and scheduled votes in the early morning hours, if that was when the debate time was running out.
When senators came to Capitol Hill Friday morning, they were armed with news that a judge ordered Pruitt to turn over thousands of emails as part of an Open Records Request by an Oklahoma television station.
Minority Leader Sen. Charles Schumer (D.-N.Y.) held a press less than four hours before the vote, where he and other Senate Democrats demanded that the Pruitt confirmation vote be delayed until Feb. 27.
Rhode Island Democrat Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said the delay was necessary to fully understand Pruitt’s relationship with the industry figures in his home state. “Time will tell and facts will come out, but I believe our Republican friends will rue the day that they had this nomination rammed through the Senate on the very day that the emails were being litigated in Oklahoma, in order to get ahead of any counter-pressure.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) — at his own press conference after Schumer’s — dismissed any calls for delay as more of the same.
— Senate Republicans (@SenateGOP) February 17, 2017
The Pruitt vote was scheduled for 1 p.m., but at 12:30 p.m., Sen. Al Franken (D.-Minn.) took to the floor to challenge the language used by Barrasso earlier in the day.
Barrasso was making the point that Democratic tactics were not sincere.
“These delays are all about obstruction,” the Wyoming senator said. “They’re all about denying President Trump his cabinet — that’s what this all about. It’s about pretending that their candidate, Hillary Clinton, didn’t lose the election in November.”
Franken said this characterization was a violation of Senate Rule XIX, which forbids senators from questioning the motives or impugning the character of another senator. This was the same rule Republicans used to call out and silence Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D.-Mass.) during the floor debate for Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ confirmation.
Unlike Warren, Franken did not force a vote after the presiding officer denied his point of order. But Fraken did walk from his own desk in the back rows to the well of the chamber to hash it out with Barrasso and McConnell.
— U.S. Senator Al Franken (@SenFranken) February 17, 2017
Barrasso was clearly ticked off, and Franken gestured with his index finger at Barrasso, saying that it was not right to say that the Democrats were acting as if Clinton won the election.
Before the exchange between the two senators got more serious, McConnell told Franken that he had lost his sense of humor.
This brought Franken to a full-stop. Then, smiling broadly, he told McConnell: “Don’t tell me Mr. Majority Leader that I have lost my sense of humor. That is not impugning my motives–that is impugning my career!”
With the point of order resolved, Franken then made a motion requesting the debate on the Pruitt confirmation extend another 248 hours–through the recess. That vote went down on party lines, 47-51. Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) and Sen. Joseph Donnelly (D.-Ind.) were not at the Capitol.
When senators return Feb. 27, they are scheduled to vote on the nomination of businessman Wilbur Ross for Commerce Secretary.