After a weeklong standoff, Senate committees on May 16 approved the nominations of two candidates to serve in top posts in the Obama administration: Gina McCarthy for the Environmental Protection Agency and Tom Perez for the Dept. of Labor.
The Environment and Public Works Committee approved the nomination of McCarthy, currently assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, by a 10-8 vote along party lines. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who is 89 and in ill health, made a rare appearance to cast his vote in favor of the nominee.
All Republicans on the committee voted against McCarthy’s nomination, saying McCarthy had not addressed all of their concerns regarding transparency at the agency.
After the vote, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.)—who led the effort to boycott the vote, which was originally scheduled for May 9—said, “We’re not asking the EPA to change its policy or views. We’re asking for openness and transparency as required by law.” Still, he said if the GOP lawmakers’ concerns about openness at the agency are sufficiently addressed, “I hold out a positive path forward” for McCarthy.
The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee approved the nomination of Perez, currently serving as the head of the Justice Dept.’s civil-rights division, by a 12-10 vote, also along party lines.
After the committee vote, which also had been delayed a week because of a procedural maneuver by Republican lawmakers to postpone the vote scheduled for May 8, Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) expressed frustration that Perez’s nomination has been pending before the committee since March. Perez has answered more than 200 written questions for the record, he said.
Republicans, led by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), have questioned Perez’s role in advising the Dept. of Justice not to intervene in a whistle-blower case that Perez, as assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, thought lacked merit.
But Harkin disputed Alexander’s criticism of Perez. “His opponents have failed to produce any evidence that calls into question his ability to fairly enforce the law as it is written, his professional integrity or moral character, or his ability to lead the Dept. of Labor,” Harkin said.
Both nominations will now advance to a vote in the full Senate. However, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) has said he has placed a hold on McCarthy’s nomination because of an issue related to the environmental impact statement for the St. Johns Bayou-New Madrid Floodway Project in southeast Missouri.