McCarthy nomination approved by Senate panel

Washington –- A key Senate panel Thursday approved the nomination of Gina McCarthy for the top job at the Environmental Protection Agency on a strictly partisan vote.

All 10 Democratic members of the Environment and Public Works Committee voted for the nominee, including an ailing New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg who has hardly been on Capitol Hill since February.

All eight Republican members of the panel voted against McCarthy, setting up a floor fight over the nominee, who headed Connecticut’s environmental protection agency in the administration of former Republican Gov. Jodi Rell.

“There’s no reason to have a fight about Gina McCarthy. She’d the most bipartisan person you can have,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the head of the Environment and Public Works committee.

Boxer also called McCarthy “stellar” and “perfect for the job” of EPA administrator. McCarthy has been serving as the head of the EPA’s air quality unit.

But several Republicans, led by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., say she has not answered all the questions posed to her –- which were more than 1,000 -– to their satisfaction.

Vitter led a GOP walkout of the committee’s hearing last week, postponing the vote on McCarthy because the panel lacked a quorum of 10 members.

But the participation of Lautenberg guaranteed a quorum – and a majority vote.

Vitter said Republican members ended their boycott because they had received  assurances from acting EPA Administration Bob Perciasepe that he would address GOP concerns about transparency at the EPA.

Vitter said Perciaspepe’s actions “are significant,” but he warned he could still filibuster McCarthy’s confirmation vote.

“Because these steps forward are limited, and do not include everything required under the law, we want to request additional progress, and the EPA’s follow-through will determine how this nomination process goes forwards. We’ll absolutely be holding the EPA to it,” Vitter wrote Perciaspepe on Thursday.

The Louisiana Republican also made the same threat during Thursday’s committee meeting. The filibuster of the nomination would require 60 votes to break, difficult since Democrats hold only 55 seats and can usually count on the votes of the two independents in the Senate.

Having cleared the EPW panel, McCarthy’s nomination can now go the Senate floor. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has not scheduled a confirmation vote.

Boxer said she hoped Vitter would drop his idea of a filibuster. But if not, Boxer  said she’d hunt for GOP votes for McCarthy’s confirmation.

“If you think this woman is honest, if you think she’s qualified, if you think she’s a going to be good leader, then vote for her,” Boxer said. If you don’t, don’t vote for her. But don’t let her twist in the wind, holding the  nomination hostage because you want a certain answer.”