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 TrumpTrump: Meetings on potential North Korea summit going 'very well' Freed American 'overwhelmed with gratitude' after being released from Venezuela Ivanka Trump to campaign for Devin Nunes in California 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 DonnellyOvernight Finance: Trump signs Dodd-Frank rollback | Snubs key Dems at ceremony | Senate confirms banking regulator | Lawmakers lash out on Trump auto tariffs Trump signs Dodd-Frank rollback Trump doesn't invite key Dems to signing ceremony on their bill MORE (Ind.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOvernight Finance: Trump signs Dodd-Frank rollback | Snubs key Dems at ceremony | Senate confirms banking regulator | Lawmakers lash out on Trump auto tariffs Trump signs Dodd-Frank rollback Trump doesn't invite key Dems to signing ceremony on their bill MORE (N.D.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Finance: House sends Dodd-Frank rollbacks to Trump | What's in the bill | Trump says there is 'no deal' to help ZTE | Panel approves bill to toughen foreign investment reviews House votes to ease regulation of banks, sending bill to Trump Senators demand answers on Trump’s ZTE deal 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 PruittSchwarzenegger: Pruitt is the worst EPA head 'we have ever had' Overnight Energy: Pruitt’s security cost .5m in first year | Watchdog clears Perry's use of military, charter flights Congress should invest in science at the EPA 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 CardinDem sen: No military option in North Korea ‘without extreme risks’ Deregulating firearms exports risks putting guns in the wrong hands Senate Dems to Mnuchin: Don't index capital gains to inflation 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 CarperHillicon Valley: Sweeping new data rules take effect | Facebook, Google already hit with complaints | Schumer slams reported ZTE deal | Senators look to save cyber post | Dem wants answers about Trump's phone security Senator asks Pentagon again for info on Trump's cellphone security Senate Dems to Mnuchin: Don't index capital gains to inflation 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 InhofeFive takeaways on the canceled Trump summit with Kim Senate panel unanimously approves water infrastructure bill Defense bill moves forward with lawmakers thinking about McCain 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 RoundsOvernight Defense: Trump decision on Korea summit coming 'next week' | China disinvited from major naval exercise | Senate sends VA reform bill to Trump Senate sends major VA reform bill to Trump's desk Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA 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.