Senate Democratic leaders should consider using the “nuclear option” to blow up GOP filibusters of EPA nominee Gina McCarthy and several other administration hopefuls, several liberal senators told The Hill on Wednesday.
The lawmakers say they’re concerned the confirmation process for McCarthy and other nominees could drag on too long without rules changes.
“I think that is clear on many major issues. I think it’s very, very clear in terms of presidential nominations,” added Sanders, who has expressed concerns that McCarthy will be unable to win 60 votes.
Twenty-five Democrats discussed the nuclear option — which would involve changing Senate rules through a majority vote to prevent the GOP from using the 60-vote filibuster — at a meeting with labor groups last week, and sources have told The Hill that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is mulling it despite the deal he reached with Republicans on the filibuster earlier this year.
A GOP boycott of a committee vote last week to advance McCarthy’s nomination — which left the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee with too few members to proceed — factors into the option’s resurgence.
“I think that the recent behavior by the Republicans has reopened that question,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) told The Hill.
Progress on McCarthy is still possible.
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) told reporters that Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and ranking member Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) are working on an agreement that could clear her confirmation ahead of the panel’s Thursday vote on McCarthy.
“It seems to me that issue is headed in the right direction,” said Wicker, who wouldn't comment on whether a deal would be ready by Thursday's vote.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who has been speaking with his Republican committee counterparts, said Tuesday that getting one or two GOP panel votes for McCarthy would make full Senate confirmation “a whole lot easier.”
Republicans have resisted McCarthy’s nomination because they say she hasn’t fully answered all their questions.
Chiefly, GOP lawmakers are concerned about transparency at the agency. They want the EPA to hand over data and information it uses to design air- and water-pollution regulations industry and conservatives oppose.
Democrats, however, contend McCarthy has answered more than 1,000 questions. They say Republicans are being “obstructionist.”
“We’ve got to look at all options right now. The filibuster was supposed to be an extraordinary tool used in extraordinary circumstances. … The standard for blocking a nominee ought to be whether or not the person is qualified, not whether or not you agree with the nominee on policy. Because that is settled during the presidential election,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) told The Hill.
Those angling for a nuclear option also said they could envision tailoring it to presidential nominations, rather than legislative matters.
And Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), who supports a push led by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) to overhaul Senate rules, said he could back a more specific tweak.
“I would suspect that there is probably a way to bifurcate policy bills from nominations, and I think that would be an appropriate approach as well,” Heinrich told The Hill.