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Senate Republicans suspend committee rules to approve Scott Pruitt, Trump’s EPA nominee

At his confirmation hearing, President-elect Trump's Environmental Protection Agency administrator nominee Scott Pruitt outlined his plan for the agency. (Video: Thomas Johnson/The Washington Post, Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Senate Republicans on Thursday again used their majority to suspend committee rules and push through another Trump administration nominee, Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, bypassing Democrats who for the second day had refused to show up for a vote on his nomination.

“Elections have consequences, and a new president is entitled to put in place people who will advance his agenda,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wy.), who chairs the Committee on Environment and Public Works. “We took this extraordinary step because the minority members of the committee took the extraordinary step of boycotting.”

Committee Republicans approved Pruitt’s nomination 11-0 on a roll call vote and sent it on to the full Senate despite the objections of Democrats, who had already boycotted a Wednesday session in a show of solidarity against someone who has repeatedly sued the EPA in recent years.

The committee’s move comes a day after Republicans used similar tactics to advance the nominations of Trump’s treasury nominee, Steven Mnuchin, and his selection for health and human services secretary, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.).

The committee’s procedural rules allow them to be changed or suspended “by vote of a majority of committee members at a business meeting if a quorum is present.” Barrasso said the Senate parliamentarian had ruled Thursday’s procedure proper under those rules, though the Senator added that the Democrats’ boycott had “put us in…uncharted waters.”

Democrats’ specific objections to Pruitt turn not only on his anti-regulatory bent but on their concerns that he did not adequately answer the written questions they sent him following his confirmation hearing. “From the outset of this confirmation process, Scott Pruitt has consistently misrepresented his environmental record and denied us the information we require to perform our duty to advise and consent,” charged Delaware Sen. Tom Carper, the committee’ ranking Democrat.

After the committee majority’s action, Carper responded: “We cannot advise the full Senate on whether Scott Pruitt will lead the EPA in a manner that will protect the public’s heath in the absence of critical information about his record.  And we cannot consent to move his nomination forward until the Committee does its job and gets those answers.”

Pruitt’s written responses also reflected a more detailed and specific expression of doubt about the science of climate change, compared with the vaguer statements he made in his confirmation hearing.

“I am also aware that ‘warmest year ever’ claims from NASA and NOAA are based on minimal temperature differences that fall within the margin of error,” Pruitt asserted in one response. In actuality, however, NASA expressed a more than 95 percent certainty that 2016 was the warmest year on record (dating back to 1880) and NOAA gave a 62 percent certainty.

The League of Conservation Voters reacted scathingly to the committee’s action Thursday morning.

“It’s all too fitting that on Groundhog Day we’d wake up to the same egregiously irresponsible tactics by Senate Republicans to ram through an EPA nominee who refuses to answer vitally important questions,” Tiernan Sittenfield, senior vice president of government affairs, said in a statement shortly after the vote. “Everything about Pruitt is antithetical to the vitally important mission of the EPA, and we call on the full Senate to reject his nomination.”

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