The exchange between the 86-year-old male senator and the much younger female nominee to lead the EPA’s Office of Water was not antagonistic, but drew attention from those who wondered whether he would have made the same quip to a man. CNN first reported Inhofe’s remark.
Inhofe, who is one of the Senate’s most vocal climate change deniers, had asked Fox about changes the Trump administration had made to roll back Obama-era federal protections for streams and wetlands.
As Fox gave her answer, Inhofe interrupted her, saying he didn’t mean to, but had to get on to the other nominees on the panel.
“I appreciate your comments particularly in your opening statement, I enjoyed that,” Inhofe said. “And so I will look forward to working with you. And if you don’t behave, I’m going to talk to your daddy.”
Fox laughed at Inhofe’s remark. The EPA’s press office did not immediately respond to request for comment about Fox’s reaction to Inhofe’s comment.
Leacy Burke, Inhofe’s spokeswoman, said the senator had been “especially touched by Ms. Fox’s tribute to her father during the opening remarks.”
“He made a lighthearted joke at the end of his questioning to recognize her father again since he was present at the hearing,” Burke said. “As he said in the hearing, Inhofe looks forward to working with Ms. Fox once she is confirmed.”
Fox is the first woman of color nominated to run the EPA’s Office of Water. She is a second-generation immigrant from rural India.
“My parents grew up without electricity. They relied on wells for drinking water and pit latrines for wastewater management,” she said in her opening statement. “Everything I have accomplished is because I stand on the shoulders of my parents’ hard work.”