WASHINGTON - Republican senators on Thursday boycotted a scheduled committee vote on President Obama's pick to be the nation's top air and water quality regulator, saying the Environmental Protection Agency hadn't adequately answered questions about her role as a deputy there.
At least one Republican senator, Roy Blunt of Missouri, placed a hold on Gina McCarthy's nomination to lead the EPA over questions about a levee project in his state. And the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, David Vitter of Louisiana, asked McCarthy a record-breaking 653 questions, out of 1,120 total from the full committee.
Those questions, in addition to queries from other Republicans, are considered to be the most ever asked of an administration nominee facing Senate confirmation. McCarthy's predecessor, Lisa Jackson, faced 157 questions from the committee, Democrats said.
Vitter and the other seven Republicans on the committee chose not to attend the hearing: James Inhofe of Oklahoma, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, John Boozman of Arkansas, and Deb Fischer of Nebraska.
McCarthy is the agency's assistant administrator in charge of air and radiation. The Senate unanimously confirmed her for that job during Obama's first term. Previously, she was a state environmental regulator for Obama's 2012 GOP opponent, Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts. She also worked for a Republican governor in Connecticut.
The chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.), on Thursday called the Republican move obstructionist. The vote had been held up for three weeks already to give Republicans time to get their questions answered, Boxer said. Republicans probably won't like the answers, Boxer said, because the answers don't support what she called a "pro-pollution fringe philosophy." But that doesn't mean Republican members should refuse to vote, Boxer said.
"Their opposition, even to allowing us to vote, shows how out of the mainstream they are," Boxer said of the Republicans. "It shows how their pledge to do better with women voters is false."
Vitter said in a letter to Boxer that the Republicans didn't expect Democrats on the committee to agree with their decision. They noted that in 2003, Democratic members of the committee chose not to attend the scheduled vote on Michael Leavitt as President George W. Bush's nominee to head the EPA until the agency responded "more fully to their requests." Leavitt faced 305 questions during his confirmation.