Senate Democrats want to delay the confirmation of Andrew Wheeler to the No. 2 spot at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), arguing he should get scrutiny because of the possibility that he could end up replacing Administrator Scott Pruitt .
Democratic members on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said they fear that they would be effectively confirming Wheeler as the EPA’s chief if President Trump decides to fire Pruitt.
“The circumstances regarding Mr. Wheeler have changed since we had our nomination hearing and vote with the cloud over Administrator Pruitt,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) on Wednesday. “I think it would be best advised to hold off on this vote to see if we are voting on the acting administrator or the deputy administrator.”
Pruitt has been at the center of controversy for weeks over his housing in Washington, raises to certain staffers and his travel and security detail. White House chief of staff John Kelly has reportedly pushed for his ouster.
Trump, however, has offered repeated public support for Pruitt, leading many in Washington to think his position at the EPA has stabilized in recent days. Pruitt has also won support from a number of GOP lawmakers as well as conservative voices outside Congress.
Environmental and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) vowed to go forward with the panel vote to confirm Wheeler this week.
“We’ll be voting on his confirmation this week. I expect to speak about him on the floor. I expect to support his work. I worked with him when I was new in the Senate. And I fully support the vote to confirm him to the position for which he has been nominated,” he said. Wheeler’s confirmation vote in front of the full Senate is expected this week. He would need just 50 votes to be confirmed, though that could force Vice President Pence to break a tie.
Wheeler is a lawyer and former lobbyist who specialized in energy and environmental policy. He is also a former staffer to Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the former chairman of the Environmental and Public Works Committee.
As such, he’d be seen as a capable administrator for EPA chief if necessary.
Sen. Tom Udall (N.M.), the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee panel that oversees the EPA’s budget, said Wheeler hasn’t been subject to the public or congressional scrutiny that a nominee to lead the EPA would usually be subjected to.
“Wheeler would move in and become the deputy administrator of the EPA, the No. 2 job. He’s never been vetted to be the top job. And so, we’ve got a real problem there,” said Udall, who speculated that Pruitt could be out in days.
“We hear from the White House that there are very split opinions on him. There are some people at the very top in the White House that want him to go right now,” Udall said.