Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) checkmated purposefully lethargic Democrats who have dragged out the approval process for President Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees.
On Monday, McConnell filed “cloture” for six of the nominees, including Rep. Ryan Zinke for Interior secretary, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry for Energy secretary and Scott Pruitt to head up the Environmental Protection Agency. All of those positions are important to Alaskans.
Senators will likely leave Washington, DC on Friday to spend time in their districts over the long President’s Day weekend, so the vote on Pruitt may come by Thursday.
However, insiders say Democrats are likely to maneuver more roadblocks in the way of Pruitt’s and other nominations.
Democrats have been boycotting committee meetings to force a delay on the vote for Pruitt, who is being opposed by the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund, and other environmental groups.
“Make no mistake, nothing less than our children’s health is at stake right now,” opined the Sierra Club, which called Pruitt a “shill for polluters.”
“An EPA run by Scott Pruitt means more pollution, more asthma attacks, more premature deaths, and more mercury poisoning. And if Trump is able to confirm Pruitt for EPA and ExxonMobil (a Private Enterprise Council Member of ALEC) CEO Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State, the result would not only put our local air and water at risk, but would also cripple U.S. climate leadership and put the stability of our planet in danger,” the organization stated.
In other words, according to the Sierra Club, Pruitt himself is an existential threat to the planet.
Some 450 former employees of the EPA agree. They include Steve Torok, once a senior representative of the Alaska Operations Office in Juneau, who joined with the others in signing a letter to Sen. McConnell opposing Pruitt’s nomination.
(Torok in 2000 proposed fines against Princess Cruises totalling $110,000 and against Norwegian Cruise Lines totalling $55,0000 for allegedly exceeding Alaska’s smokestack emission limits.)
Another nominee targeted by Democrats for removal is Rep. Mick Mulvaney to lead the Office of Management and Budget. The cloture means his confirmation vote will likely come on Wednesday, but that could drag into Thursday with Democrats pushing back due to Mulvaney’s own admission that he was delinquent in paying up to $15,000 in state and federal payroll taxes for a babysitter between 2000 and 2004. Democrats have marked him for disqualification.
If Mulvaney’s hearing is hung up, then Pruitt’s confirmation will get pushed into the end of February. Both Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan are expected to vote in favor of Pruitt, the fiesty 48-year-old Oklahoma attorney general, when the matter does hit the full Senate.
Although reviled by environmentalists, Pruitt is lauded by conservatives for establishing a “federalism unit” to fight unwarranted regulations and federal overreach in Oklahoma. He filed the first lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act, and he is a litigious thorn in the side of the Environmental Protection Agency, which he is being appointed to lead.
One thing is certain: Pruitt is no Gina McCarthy, who headed the EPA under President Obama and famously shut down the Pebble Project in western Alaska before the Pebble Limited Partnership could even go through a permit process. The EPA has been accused of misconduct and bias in the events that led up to its decision.
Another nominee whom Democrats oppose is Andy Puzder, tapped by Trump to lead the Department of Labor. Alaska Sen. Murkowski and three other Republicans have indicated they haven’t made up their minds about whether to support his nomination. Murkowski opposed the appointment of Betsy DeVos to head Education, who was confirmed.
Some believe that Murkowski owes much to the National Education Association for her write-in victory in 2010, which was a bill that came due when Betsy DeVos’ nomination for Education Secretary was voted on. Murkowski voted against her, along with Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, but Vice President Mike Pence cast the deciding vote that confirmed DeVos.