Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
October 9, 2015

Rules Watch: GOP Boycott to Delay EPA Nomination

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 12:08 p.m. | For the second time in as many days, Senate Republicans are using the rules to delay action on one of President Barack Obama’s nominations. This time, it’s Gina McCarthy, the president’s choice to become administrator of the EPA.

Senate Environment and Public Works ranking member David Vitter, R-La., announced in a letter to Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., this morning that the panel’s Republican members would not be attending the scheduled hearing. GOP members of the panel met Wednesday evening in the Capitol’s Strom Thurmond Room to discuss strategy on the nomination, but they were coy with reporters after the meeting about what the plan might be. The senators deferred most questions to Vitter, and he generally does not talk to members of the media in the Capitol’s corridors.

But now, Vitter’s announced the plan, saying the EPW markup of McCarthy’s nomination should be delayed while further questions are answered.

“Republicans on the EPW Committee have asked EPA to honor five very reasonable and basic requests in conjunction with the nomination of Gina McCarthy, which focus on openness and transparency,” Vitter said. “While Chairman Boxer has allowed EPA adequate time to fully respond before any mark-up on the nomination, EPA has stonewalled on four of the five categories. We ask and expect that Chairman Barbara Boxer will follow the rules of the Committee and the full U.S. Senate.”

EPW’s parliamentarian explained that Boxer has a way to work around the Republican boycott, but 10 Democrats would need to be physically present. That would require an appearance by an ailing Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey. He’s been largely absent due to health issues.

Caught leaving the Capitol after votes on April 17, he said that his health has improved and he expected to be back more frequently. Until that day, Lautenberg had not voted since Feb. 28.

Boxer said Thursday that the dispute over the EPA nominee wouldn’t impede progress on a Boxer-Vitter water resources bill, because the two parties can generally agree on public works bills even while feuding over environmental issues.

“We have good teamwork together on public works, but when it comes to the environment we have clashes every single day. And this is an example of one of those clashes,” she said.
Vitter’s announcement points to two separate rules as explanations for why the panel shouldn’t act without the Republicans. First, EPW committee rules require some minority party attendance to conduct business. The second is a different part of Senate Rule XXVI than the one referenced in connection with Wednesday’s attempt by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, to hold a markup of Obama’s nomination of Thomas E. Perez to be Labor secretary. It’s that thorny issue of having a quorum. Here’s the relevant portion for Thursday’s disagreement:

Except as provided in this paragraph, each committee, and each subcommittee thereof is authorized to fix the number of its members (but not less than one-third of its entire membership) who shall constitute a quorum thereof for the transaction of such business as may be considered by said committee, except that no measure or matter or recommendation shall be reported from any committee unless a majority of the committee were physically present.

Anna McGeehan contributed to this report.

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