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By Brian Dabbs
Senate leadership is prepared to confirm Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as Environmental Protection Agency administrator with meager, or even nonexistent, Democratic support, top Republicans told Bloomberg BNA.
Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) predicted Pruitt’s confirmation, despite an ongoing outcry from Democrats over the nominee’s skepticism of the human connection to climate change.
Democrats have no mechanisms at their disposal to derail confirmation, which requires only a simple majority. The Republican majority boasts 52 seats.
“I believe all the President-elect’s Cabinet appointments will be confirmed,” McConnell said in a response to a question about Pruitt.
In 2013, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) invoked the nuclear option, changing Senate rules to require only 51 votes to overcome a filibuster and pave the way for final confirmation. Newly anointed Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he regrets that decision in an interview that CNN posted Jan. 3.
The Senate historically grants the president broad bipartisan deference on Cabinet appointments.
Pruitt has submitted all required paperwork to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, spokesman Mike Danylak told Bloomberg BNA. That includes an ethics report, a 90-day plan for nominees to remove themselves from conflicts, and their FBI briefings, Schumer said Jan. 4.
“I would like to succeed in negotiating something when we get full and fair hearings. We’re not trying to be dilatory,” said Schumer, speaking to the nominee selections writ large. “There are so many issues about so many of them that to rush them through would be a disservice to the American people.”
Members of the EPW Committee, which will be the host of Pruitt’s confirmation hearing, elected Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) as chairman Jan. 4, following weeks of expectations that he’d claim the reins of the panel. “Our early priorities include confirming a new administrator at the EPA,” Barrasso said in a statement. “We will also work to pass badly needed reforms to problematic EPA regulations issued over the past eight years.”
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), an EPW member, told Bloomberg BNA that Pruitt did not responded to a request for information on the nominee’s connection to the energy sector and a nonprofit organization called the Rule of Law Defense Fund.
In a separate inquiry, Tom Carper (D-Del.), EPW ranking member, is giving Pruitt until Jan. 9 to respond to more than five pages of wide-ranging questions.
Pruitt met with Sens. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) Jan. 4, and the nominee called for more state rights in regulation following the Capito meeting.
“Our environmental statutes have a very meaningful role for the EPA and a very meaningful role for the states,” Pruitt said. “It’s important that they work together to ensure the safety and health of our citizens. That’s something we will be committed to in the future.”
President-elect Donald Trump said in early 2016 that he will leave only “little tidbits” of the EPA.
On Jan. 4, Fischer relayed a similar message. “My discussion with Mr. Pruitt this afternoon focused on how he intends to unroll these reams of federal red tape and put the agency back on the right track,” she said. Pruitt met with Barrasso and former EPW Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) Jan. 3.
EPW Democrats said they may meet with Pruitt after he submitted his paperwork. Regardless of Democratic buy-in, Thune said Pruitt is on track for confirmation.
“I don’t think he’ll have any problem getting confirmed because the Democrats changed the rules and made it a 51-vote threshold,” Thune told Bloomberg BNA. “They may try to drag it out a little bit, and obviously during the confirmation process they can ask hard questions.”
Danylak said Barrasso had not yet decided on a hearing timeline.
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