WASHINGTON — Republicans suspended Senate committee rules Thursday to muscle through President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency toward a confirmation vote after Democrats boycotted a meeting.
It was the latest sign of political hostilities on Capitol Hill as Senate Democrats used parliamentary procedure to delay votes on some of Trump’s Cabinet nominees and Republicans used their slim Senate majority to advance and approve them.
The seats reserved for the 10 Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee were empty for a second consecutive day as the scheduled meeting to discuss to nomination of Scott Pruitt was gaveled to order. Committee rules required that at least two members of the minority party be present for a vote to be held.
The 11 Republicans voted unanimously to suspend those rules and then voted again to advance the nomination of Pruitt, the state attorney general of Oklahoma.
Committee chairman John Barrasso accused the absent Democrats of engaging in delay and obstruction.
“It is unprecedented for a minority to delay the nominee of incoming president to this extent,” said Barrasso, R-Wy. “Elections have consequences.”
Despite the rhetoric from the committee’s Republicans, the Democrats appeared to have borrowed directly from their opponent’s playbook.
In 2013, GOP members of the same committee boycotted a similar committee meeting on Gina McCarthy, President Obama’s then-nominee for EPA administrator. McCarthy was eventually approved by the Senate, serving in the post until Trump’s inauguration earlier this month.
Barrasso has said that is not an “apples-to-apples” comparison since Obama was not then a new, first-term president building out his team.
Democratic members of the committee said this week the boycott was necessary because Pruitt has refused to fully respond to requests for additional information.
“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,” said Sen. Ed Markey, D-MA. “Senate Democrats and the American public have a right to basic information from all of Donald Trump’s nominees, including Scott Pruitt, before taking votes on them in committee or on the Senate floor.”
While Pruitt’s nomination has been hailed by Republicans and the fossil fuel industry, Democrats and environmental groups say his confirmation would be a disaster for the EPA.
In his current position as Oklahoma’s state attorney general, Pruitt has frequently sued the agency he hopes to lead, including filing a multistate lawsuit opposing the Obama administration’s plan to limit planet-warming carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. Pruitt also sued over the EPA’s recent expansion of water bodies regulated under the Clean Water Act. It has been opposed by industries that would be forced to clean up polluted wastewater.
Like Trump, the 48-year-old Republican has previously cast doubt on the extensive body of scientific evidence showing that the planet is warming and man-made carbon emissions are to blame. Pressed by Democrats in his Senate confirmation hearing earlier this month, however, Pruitt said he disagreed with Trump’s earlier claims that global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese to harm the economic competitiveness of the United States.
“I do not believe climate change is a hoax,” Pruitt said.
Democrats have also criticized Pruitt’s close ties to the oil and gas industry.
Though Pruitt ran unopposed for a second term in 2014, campaign finance reports show he raised more than $700,000, much of it from people in the energy and utility industries. Among those who gave the maximum contribution of $5,000 to Pruitt’s campaign was Continental Resources Chairman and CEO Harold Hamm, an Oklahoma oil tycoon who has been advising Trump.