After rescheduled hearings, the Senate moved forward on a number of Trump administration cabinet picks in a tumultuous week of partisan showdowns and dragged-out votes.
On Wednesday, 10 empty seats at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee confirmation hearing signaled a Democratic boycott on the nomination of Mr. Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, Republicans advanced Mr. Pruitt’s nomination without their counterparts across the aisle by suspending committee rules that required two members of the minority party be present for the vote. Part of the reason for the boycott was concern over inadequate answers to a number of questions posed by the committee after his nomination hearing. One of these was Mr. Pruitt’s response on ocean acidification when he said that there is variability in the alkalinity of the ocean, and it is “difficult to attribute that variability to any single cause.”
Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, a handful of Trump administration nominees advanced with bipartisan support. The Senate overwhelmingly approved 93-6 the confirmation of former Labor Secretary Ms. Elaine Chao to lead the Transportation Department. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources approved the Interior and Energy Cabinet nominees, Representative Ryan Zinke (MT-At Large) and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, respectively. Though receiving bipartisan votes, their passage was not without opposition. Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (WA) voted against both due to five concerns about the administration and the nominees. Due in part to former Gov. Perry’s lack of expressed “commitment” and “enthusiasm” during confirmation hearings, she worried that climate science and efficiency programs could be threatened at the Department of Energy and that partisan politics could overshadow the use of scientific and technical expertise. She raised concern that with Rep. Zinke at the helm, the Department of the Interior could reform federal coal policies and allow drilling in sensitive areas. Her final point of contention was specific to President Trump’s executive order on immigration, which could impair national laboratories by obstructing scientists who come to work in them from all over the world. These two nominations will now head to the Senate floor for confirmation votes.