Senate moves toward confirming deputy EPA head
The Senate passed a procedural action Thursday that moves lawmakers toward confirming President Trump’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 Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Manchin (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.
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 Pruitt 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 Cardin (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 Carper (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 Inhofe (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 Rounds (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.