Gina McCarthy may feel heat from ‘nuclear option’

Washington —  It looks like Gina McCarthy, President Obama’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, will finally get a Senate confirmation vote Tuesday.

But the circumstances surrounding that vote could get ugly.

McCarthy, who was the head of Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection under the administration of former Republican governor M. Jodi Rell, is one of seven executive branch nominees whose nomination has been stalled by Republican senators.

Citing long-simmering Democratic frustrations with GOP filibusters and delay tactics, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has threatened to use the “nuclear option.”  That means he would use the Democrats’ slim majority in the Senate to change the chamber’s rules so that a filibuster could not be used against the nominees.

McCarthy would then be easily confirmed because she has the support of at least 51 Democrats in the 100-member Senate.

“Shouldn’t (presidents) be able to have the team they want? That’s what this is all about. This is about making Washington work regardless of who’s the president,” Reid said last week.

The rules change Reid is considering is called the “nuclear option” because it threatens to blow up Senate tradition and ratchet up hostilities.

Yet McCarthy, who now serves as administrator of the EPA’s air quality division, could very well be confirmed without a rules change.

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., dropped his filibuster threat last week, saying McCarthy had finally answered all his questions. He had submitted about 700.

And Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who has also blocked McCarthy’s nomination, has a very narrow objection: He put a hold on the nomination because the EPA and U.S. Army Corps could not agree to a Missouri flood control project. But it’s unlikely he has enough support in the Senate to maintain his hold.

“We were always optimistic (about her nomination) because she has such bipartisan appeal,” said Keith Gaby of the Environmental Defense Fund.

McCarthy had also worked for former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who later became the GOP’s choice to run for the White House.

Like all environmental advocates, the Environmental Defense Fund has been lobbying for McCarthy’s confirmation.

“It’s hard to argue against her. She’s the ideal candidate,” said Frank Matzner, a lobbyist with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Connecticut’s senators were also calling for her confirmation.

“Sadly, petty, paralyzing, partisan gamesmanship in the Senate has stalled Gina McCarthy’s nomination to head the EPA — obstructionist tactics that deny the American people the type of environmental leadership they deserve,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal said on the Senate floor last week.

Vitter’s drop of the filibuster against McCarthy came with a price. The EPA agreed to several changes that Republicans have long sought from the agency.

It has promised to make public the raw data behind its studies, and it has agreed to modify the economic modeling used to determine the costs of major rules.

In addition, the EPA agreed with Vitter’s demand that it create two websites to post environmental groups’ demands for new regulations …especially notices of lawsuits against the EPA.

McCarthy has been awaiting confirmation since she was nominated by Obama in March.

Richard Cordray, President Obama’s pick for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has waited two years since being nominated without getting a vote.

Also blocked are three National Labor Relations Board nominees, Mark Gaston Pearce, Sharon Block and Richard Griffin; Thomas Perez, who was nominated to head the Labor Department, and Fred Hochberg, who was renominated to lead the U.S. Export-Import Bank.

Senators planned to meet privately in the Capitol’s Old Senate Chamber late Monday to try to find a compromise that would avoid the nuclear option.

 

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