Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is on his way to be confirmed as the next administrator of the U.S. EPA, after Senate Republicans managed to advance his vote out of committee Feb. 2. Democrats boycotted the hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, as they did the day before.
The move required a brief suspension of the EPW committee's rules, similar to the way Republicans managed to advance votes for the president's nominees for Treasury and the Department of Health and Human Services, Steven Mnuchin and Tom Price, respectively.
Committee Chairman John Barrasso of Wyoming said the committee would not allow the Democrats' actions to obstruct Pruitt's nomination. Barrasso called for a motion to suspend three rules for the duration of the meeting to allow the vote to move Pruitt's confirmation to the full senate. The motion passed unanimously.
Barrasso then called a second vote to approve Pruitt as the EPA's nominee and move the matter on to the full senate, and the motion again passed unanimously.
"The minority has put us in these uncharted waters," Barrasso said, calling the Democrats' protest unprecedented.
Speaking to reporters after the brief meeting, Barrasso said the suspension of the rules had been vetted by the Senate Parliamentarian to ensure the move was lawful. All Republican senators were required to attend the meeting in order to vote on the matter. That included Sen. Jeff Sessions, who is President Donald Trump's nominee for attorney general.
In a statement issued by the EPW Democrats shortly after the vote, Ranking Member Thomas Carper, Del., called the Republicans' actions "irresponsible."
"This Groundhog Day, EPW Democrats are living the Bill Murray movie. As far as I'm aware, we still have not received the relevant documents and the substantive answers we've requested from Mr. Pruitt. So it seems that the only thing that has changed is that it's Thursday instead of Wednesday," said Carper.
Democrats have insisted that answers received from the nominee to hundreds of questions were inadequate. Barrasso called the claim "simply a smokescreen." Carper said the requests from the Democrats were reasonable and on par with similar questioning offered to former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in 2013.
"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," Carper 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."
Barrasso said he did not expect Pruitt's nomination to see much resistance before the full Senate. A date for that vote was not immediately scheduled.