Trump Pick to Run Mediation Service Lands at EPA. What Happened?

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By Ben Penn and Josh Eidelson

An ardent Donald Trump supporter is now leading an Environmental Protection Agency regional office, despite his still-pending nomination to direct the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

The Senate and the White House are offering conflicting accounts about whether agriculture industry consultant Mike Stoker remains in contention to run the FMCS or whether he is now fully committed to an EPA post that doesn’t require congressional approval. Stoker is a Trump loyalist, credited in some media outlets for originating the “lock her up” chant about Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Republican National Convention.

The FMCS is an independent agency in Washington responsible for mediating union-management conflicts. The next director would be at the center of brokering peace between parties that have been unable to come to terms on bargaining agreements or to end strikes and lockouts.

The Trump administration May 18 appointed Stoker as the EPA’s regional administrator with great fanfare. An EPA statement praised his qualifications to oversee the agency’s critical Pacific Southwest territory, and Administrator Scott Pruitt saluted Stoker’s selection in a tweet. But the administration neglected to mention that Stoker’s name is technically still pending before the Senate since January as Trump’s pick for a different job, some 2,700 miles away.

Stoker, a farming industry attorney who forcefully backed Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, has a personal Facebook page that includes insults directed at former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and a video of himself leading a RNC “lock her up” chant . Two years later, Stoker’s future working for President Trump involves an ambiguous dual-agency status.

Aides from both sides of the aisle on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee told Bloomberg Law that Stoker didn’t complete paperwork for the FMCS position that the panel requires before holding a confirmation hearing. The HELP Committee hasn’t scheduled a hearing for Stoker and hasn’t discussed his name during private personnel nomination meetings for months, one aide said.

Yet the White House is placing the blame for Stoker’s change of plans on Senate Democrats.

“We have full confidence in Mike Stoker, and will not be withdrawing his nomination to serve as FMCS Director,” deputy White House press secretary Lindsay Walters told Bloomberg Law in a prepared statement. “If he decides to work at EPA while he’s waiting for obstructionist Senate Democrats to allow a vote on his confirmation, we support him.”

Paperwork Problems

When informed of the White House statement, a Democratic HELP Committee aide told Bloomberg Law in an email, “If the White House actually had confidence in this nominee, they would send over his confirmation paperwork so the Committee can begin the necessary vetting.”

Asked to address Stoker’s committee paperwork and to explain how Democrats have obstructed the process, the White House didn’t provide a reply.

Trump’s first nominee for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, had his scheduled confirmation hearing delayed several times because of complications in filing personal and financial records with the HELP Committee, among other reasons. But in Stoker’s circumstance, the Senate committee has moved on, Stoker is settling into a new, typically permanent slot at EPA, and the FMCS is showing no signs of planning for a future with Stoker at the helm.

A source familiar with the situation said it doesn’t appear that the White House is going to move forward with Stoker’s nomination. The source also said there’s no sign that the White House has another person in mind for the FMCS job.

Stoker Focused on EPA

Stoker told Bloomberg Law when reached by phone that he is “focusing on the EPA right now.” He directed questions to the White House on the whereabouts of his committee disclosures.

“I don’t submit paperwork; the White House does,” Stoker said. “I submitted everything to the White House. I have no idea what the White House did.”

EPA representatives didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The FMCS has also apparently been kept out of the loop on whether the White House wishes to stay the course or install a new nominee. “With regards to Michael Stoker, we’re aware of his position with the EPA,” Greg Raelson, an FMCS spokesman, told Bloomberg Law. “We have not been informed that his appointment with FMCS has been withdrawn.”

‘Lock Her Up’

It remains unclear whether Stoker’s uninhibited social media presence played a role in the decision to move him to a position that wouldn’t require Senate confirmation.

In a series of posts on his personal Facebook page throughout the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, Stoker presented himself firmly in the pro-Trump, anti-Clinton camp. In one, he shares a video in which he is seen participating in a “lock her up” chant during then-vice presidential nominee Mike Pence’s speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

“Lock her up” was a popular refrain among RNC attendees that is still chanted at the president’s rallies in reference to Clinton’s use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state and other allegations.

Stoker’s Facebook feed also includes an image he shared mocking Clinton’s personal fashion.

—With assistance from Hassan A. Kanu (Bloomberg Law)

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