Democrats in the Virginia state Senate may have dashed Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s pick for a key Cabinet post, but that didn’t stop the governor from hiring him anyway.
The governor had previously nominated Wheeler, who led the Environmental Protection Agency under President Donald Trump, to serve as his secretary of natural and historic resources. While Virginia’s General Assembly rarely blocks Cabinet nominations, Democrats in the Senate said they could not support Wheeler, who had spearheaded a rollback of environmental protections while serving in the Trump administration.
“We received a letter from 150 former EPA employees who suggested that Mr. Wheeler had undermined the work of EPA and worked against the environmental interests of this country,” Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) said during a committee hearing on the nomination. “We think that members of the governor’s Cabinet ought to be people that unite us Virginians.”
The move to block Wheeler led to a growing partisan spat in Richmond in recent weeks that has spilled over beyond environmental policy. As payback, Republicans held up the reappointment of a State Corporation Commission judge favored by Democrats and blocked elections for two state Supreme Court justices.
And in February, Republicans in the House of Delegates also voted against confirming 11 state panel appointments put forth by former governor Ralph Northam (D), again breaking from tradition in the state Capitol. The Democratic-controlled Senate then rejected Youngkin’s picks for the state’s parole board, as well as another nominee to the state Safety and Health Codes Board.
Youngkin is not the first Virginia governor to take such an approach with a rejected Cabinet nominee. After Democrats opposed efforts by Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell to nominate Robert Sledd for commerce and trade secretary, McDonnell made Sledd an unpaid senior economic adviser.
Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.