OMAHA (DTN) -- Despite already fielding more than 1,200 questions, a scheduled vote on Scott Pruitt's nomination to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was thwarted by a boycott by the 10 Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday.
In their absence, Republican members of the committee took the occasion to express their disappointment at the action in light of what they said was an unprecedented vetting of an EPA nominee.
Democrat members boycotting a vote include Sens. Bernie Sanders, Thomas Carper, Ben Cardin, Sheldon Whitehouse, Jeff Merkley, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, Edward Markey, Tammy Duckworth and Kamala Harris.
"This committee and all of the Republicans in the Senate have committed to a fair and full process," said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa. "There comes a point where vetting becomes obstruction, and that's what we're witnessing today. What is the true purpose of their witch hunt?"
Ernst said although Republicans strongly opposed former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson during her nomination process, in total, the committee asked about 200 questions of Jackson.
"Will the Democrats take responsibility for a less-than-functional EPA if, heaven forbid, we have a major environmental disaster?" Ernst said.
Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said the hearing for Pruitt has been transparent.
"Instead, we're seeing filibustering at the committee level," she said. "I don't believe Americans want to see this from their representatives."
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said Democrats should have continued to voice their opposition to Pruitt during Wednesday's hearing.
"It's not like they're busy," he said. "They are literally meandering the hallway. The EPA needs serious course correction."
The American Farm Bureau Federation announced its support for Pruitt shortly after he was nominated. Environmental groups, however, have called for the Senate to reject Pruitt. Food and Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter said in a statement to DTN the Democrats' action was "necessary and commendable." Hauter said Pruitt was unfit for the office.
"Moving forward, any senator of either party that supports Pruitt's nomination will be judged as anti-science, anti-health and anti-environment, and be held appropriately accountable by the people," Hauter said.
In a letter this week to EPW Chairman Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., committee ranking member Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., asked Barrasso to delay the vote because some questions remained unanswered.
"The committee Democrats are deeply concerned about the lack of thoroughness of Mr. Pruitt's responses to our questions for the record," Carper said in the letter.
"Committee Democrats and I sent many questions and document requests to Mr. Pruitt over a month ago. We believe these inquiries, and our questions for the record, elicit information from the nominee that he possesses and that he should be able to provide to the committee.
"Failure on his part to do so is not only an affront; it also denies Democratic committee members, and all members of the Senate, information necessary to judge his fitness to assume the important role of leading the EPA," Carper said in the letter.
In a letter to Carper on Tuesday, Barrasso pointed to what he believes has been a transparent approach by the committee on Pruitt.
"The committee's review of Attorney General Pruitt's nomination has been unparalleled in its scrutiny, thoroughness, and respect for minority rights," Barrasso said in the letter.
"Attorney General Pruitt has answered more questions than any past EPA administrator nominee. He has been comprehensively vetted and has demonstrated his qualifications to lead the EPA."
Carper had asked for a delay of the vote until a number of questions were answered.
Democrats on the committee have said Pruitt still has not provided a number of documents requested about his time as attorney general of Oklahoma, including any correspondence Pruitt had with agriculture and other groups.
"For example, Sen. Cardin asked Mr. Pruitt to 'provide all communications you had with representatives of agricultural and other companies regarding water quality litigation between Arkansas and Oklahoma,'" Carper said in the letter.
"This was a request to a public official to disclose documents he possesses on a settlement he touted as a success in verbal testimony before the committee. Mr. Pruitt responded: 'Such communications can be requested from the Oklahoma office of the attorney general through a request made to that office pursuant to the Oklahoma Open Records Act.' Mr. Pruitt provided this answer 19 times in response to questions several Democrats posed on a variety of matters. We are deeply concerned that senators are being directed by a nominee to obtain information on his record outside of the confirmation process -- especially given that the Oklahoma office of the attorney general has a two-year backlog on such record requests."
In addition, Democrats say they are unsatisfied with Pruitt not agreeing to recuse himself from agency actions dealing with pending litigation he may have initiated as attorney general.
"His responses have not answered whether or not he will do so," Carper said. "...Committee Democrats and I sent many questions and document requests to Mr. Pruitt over a month ago. We believe these inquiries and our questions for the record, elicit information from the nominee that he possesses and that he should be able to provide to the committee. Failure on his part to do so is not only an affront; it also denies Democratic committee members and all members of the Senate, information necessary to judge his fitness to assume the important role of leading the EPA."
Todd Neeley can be reached at email@example.com
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