Senate panel advances EPA nominee McCarthy in 10-8 party-line vote

A Senate panel on Thursday advanced the nomination of Gina McCarthy, President Obama’s pick to run the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in a 10-8 party-line vote, signaling a possibly contentious confirmation fight ahead.

The partisan vote could spell potential trouble for McCarthy if Republicans employ a filibuster on her nomination, which would require 60 votes to break.

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The vote in the Environment and Public Works Committee came after GOP senators boycotted last week’s scheduled vote, leaving Democrats shy of a quorum, with Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who has been in ill health, and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) absent.

Republicans have used the nomination to raise concerns about transparency at the EPA and have called on McCarthy, currently the agency’s top air quality regulator, to hand over more information and data the agency uses to craft pollution regulations opposed by the GOP and businesses.

Democrats, meanwhile, contend McCarthy has answered more than 1,000 queries and have charged the GOP with being “obstructionist.” Democrats say Republicans are protesting the EPA’s regulatory policies rather than vetting McCarthy’s qualifications.

“I have never seen a nomination handled this way,” Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said before the vote.

“I have seen nominees come up that I couldn’t agree with, I didn’t agree with the way the agency was run or anything else. But I didn’t take it out on the nominee who hasn’t yet had an opportunity to do her job,” she added.

Ahead of the vote, ranking member David Vitter (R-La.) listed the issues the EPA must resolve for GOP members to not filibuster McCarthy’s nomination on the floor.

Vitter said he would not impose a filibuster if the agency makes significant progress in assuaging those GOP concerns over the next two weeks, and was willing to back McCarthy based on the response.

“Because these steps forward are limited, and do not include everything required under the law, we want to request additional progress, and their follow through will determine how this nomination process goes forwards,” Vitter said in a letter to McCarthy and acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe.

“We’ll absolutely be holding them to it,” he vowed.

It is unclear if McCarthy would have enough support among GOP senators for a filibuster-proof majority.

Some Democrats have discussed using a “nuclear option” to prevent a GOP filibuster. That route would involve changing Senate rules to allow for majority votes instead of the 60-vote threshold filibusters require.

Still, some Democrats oppose the nuclear option, fearing it would set a bad precedent that Republicans could take advantage of if they regain control of the Senate.

Speaking to reporters after the vote, Boxer cautioned Republicans not to block McCarthy’s nomination.

“He [Vitter] held out three scenarios: One, he would filibuster; two, he wouldn’t filibuster; and three, he would vote for her. Frankly, I’m only interested in one: no filibuster,” Boxer said.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a member of the committee, said he did not believe Republicans will filibuster the nomination.

"I think at the end of the day there is going to be an up-or-down vote," he predicted.