Senate moves toward confirming deputy EPA head

Senate moves toward confirming deputy EPA head
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The Senate passed a procedural action Thursday that moves lawmakers toward confirming President TrumpDonald John TrumpIran claims it rejected Trump meeting requests 8 times ESPY host jokes Putin was as happy after Trump summit as Ovechkin winning Stanley Cup Russian ambassador: Trump made ‘verbal agreements’ with Putin MORE’s pick to be deputy head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The cloture vote for Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, passed 53-45. All Republicans present voted for Wheeler, as did three Democrats: Sens. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellySenate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Fed chief lays out risks of trade war Doug Jones walks tightrope on Supreme Court nominee MORE (Ind.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampElection Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas Senate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Bipartisan group introduces retirement savings legislation in Senate MORE (N.D.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinElection Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas Senate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Morrisey accuses Manchin of 'lying' to Trump, attacks ‘liberal’ record MORE (W.Va.). Each of those Democrats is running for reelection this year in a heavily Republican state.

Usually, the Senate would vote on final confirmation for an administration nominee within hours of the cloture vote. But if Democrats wanted to, they could force the Senate to debate Wheeler’s nomination for up to 30 hours, pushing the vote to Friday at the earliest.

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Senate Democrats have said in recent days that they want to delay the Wheeler vote as long as possible, arguing that he has not been thoroughly vetted.

If EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Watchdog opens investigation into Interior chief | Judge halts Pruitt truck pollution rule decision | Winners, losers in EPA, Interior spending bill amendments Sanders endures press grilling over Russia Court blocks EPA policy against enforcing truck pollution rule MORE were to resign or be fired, the deputy administrator would take his spot immediately. Pruitt has been under fire in recent weeks over a series of spending and ethics controversies, though President Trump has repeatedly expressed his support for the embattled EPA head.

“The circumstances regarding Mr. Wheeler have changed since we had our nomination hearing and vote with the cloud over Administrator Pruitt,” Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinJuan Williams: Putin wins as GOP spins Senate passes resolution honoring victims of Capital Gazette shooting Biden rallies Dem support for progressive Md. governor candidate MORE (D-Md.), a senior member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said Wednesday. “I think it would be best advised to hold off on this vote to see if we are voting on the acting administrator or the deputy administrator.”

Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOvernight Energy: Fewer than half of school districts test for lead | Dems slam proposed changes to Endangered Species Act | FEMA avoids climate change when discussing plan for future storms Dems slam proposed changes to Endangered Species Act Full interview: Democratic candidate Kerri Evelyn Harris discusses her Senate campaign in Delaware MORE (Del.), the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said he “wouldn’t expect” that the minority would demand the full 30 hours of debate, “but we’ll see.”

Cardin said before the procedural vote that Democrats have few options available to push off Wheeler’s vote.

“The floor action is moving,” he said. “We have very few options that are remaining if the majority doesn’t recognize that this is a different circumstance.”

Republicans said they expect Wheeler to be confirmed, and they won’t leave for the weekend until Wheeler and two judges are confirmed. The Senate usually leaves for the weekend on Thursday afternoon.

“I’m assuming he’s going to get the votes,” said Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeNew EPA chief draws sharp contrast to Pruitt Senate takes symbolic shot at Trump tariffs Senate moves to start negotiations on defense policy bill MORE (R-Okla.).

“If they want to talk until midnight tonight, they can talk until midnight tonight. We’re going to be here until we’re done,” said Sen. Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsElection security bill picks up new support in Senate Hillicon Valley: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | Sparks fly at hearing on social media | First House Republican backs net neutrality bill | Meet the DNC's cyber guru | Sinclair defiant after merger setback Senate adds members to pro-NATO group MORE (R-S.D.).

Wheeler is currently co-head of the energy practice at Faegre Baker Daniels, a law and consulting firm. He was previously registered as a lobbyist for energy companies including coal-mining giant Murray Energy Corp., but undid his registration last year before Trump tapped him for the EPA job.

Wheeler worked in the past for Inhofe when he was chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and worked at the EPA prior to that.

The deputy administrator at the EPA acts as its chief operating officer and oversees employees, among other responsibilities. The agency has been without a politically nominated deputy administrator since Trump took office, and its acting deputy administrator, a career official, retired earlier this month.