All eight Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee boycotted a vote on the nomination of Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Thursday, preventing the panel from advancing the appointment to the Senate floor.

The Republican committee members informed Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) of the planned boycott Thursday morning, just before the vote was to take place. In a letter to Boxer, Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, the top Republican on the panel, said McCarthy provided “unresponsive” answers to his party’s questions and that this was the reason for their action.

Democrats were unable to establish a quorum despite holding a two-seat advantage on the panel due to the absence of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who was ill. But even if all 10 committee Democrats had been present, the panel could not have voted on McCarthy’s nomination. Committee rules require that at least two minority members be present to establish a quorum.

Boxer was called on to schedule another vote on McCarthy’s nomination as quickly as possible. A second committee vote “depends on [the] health of Sen. Lautenberg [and] how quickly can we get him here,” Boxer said. She said committee rules require that Lautenberg be physically present to vote.

If the McCarthy nomination clears the committee, Democrats said a simple majority (51 votes) should be required to pass her nomination on the floor. “Otherwise, no president is going to get [a] nomination through the Senate,” Boxer said.

The failure of the Republican committee members to show up for the vote is “obstructionism, pure and simple,” said Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD).

Republicans asked McCarthy to respond to 1,000 questions. “That is a record…[It] looks a little like they’re just throwing sand in the gears,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). The Republicans “want pre-determined answers in favor of the oil [and gas] and coal industry. That’s not going to happen.”

“They are holding Gina McCarthy hostage to their pro-pollution philosophy,” Boxer said. The Republican committee members are “harassing and haranguing this nominee.”

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) also has a hold on McCarthy’s nomination over a dispute involving a water project in his state (see NGI, March 25).

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is the only energy-related Obama administration nominee to be approved by the Senate this year. The nomination of Ernest J. Moniz as secretary of the Department of Energy has been sent to the Senate floor, but Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is holding it up in order to receive federal funding for a nuclear fuel facility in his home state.

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