The Senate continued powering through its march on Cabinet confirmations, approving on Friday the nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA, despite questions surrounding the appropriateness of his contacts with the fossil fuel industry.
Senators voted 52-46 to confirm Pruitt.
Two Democrats, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, bucked their party vote for Pruitt’s confirmation. Indiana Democrat Joe Donnelly said on the floor early Friday that he could not support the nominee “who has sued the EPA to stop the sale of [ethanol] and who praised the erosion of a policy designed to strengthen our energy security and to promote homegrown Hoosier biofuels.” Donnelly noted, however, that he would not be in attendance for the vote.
Democrats had asked Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to delay the confirmation vote, and made a motion on the floor to extend debate on the nomination, but they were not successful.
They cited a court ruling Thursday that ordered Pruitt to release emails and communications between his office and the fossil fuel industry. Pruitt has been ordered to release the first batch of communications by Tuesday.
Democrats accused McConnell of ramming through the vote before senators had all the information.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said the majority leader was “asking for willful blindness,” which the Rhode Island Democrat defined as “the wrongful, intentional refusal to inform yourself. That is precisely what is being done on the floor of the Senate right now.”
“If it wasn’t one thing, it would be another,” McConnell told reporters at a Friday news conference. “The effort has been to delay the nomination that they have made controversial as long as possible in order to play to their left-wing base which will not accept the results of the election.”
Democrats said Pruitt’s numerous lawsuits against the EPA as well as political donations he received from the fossil fuel industry demonstrated that his goals are contrary to the mission of the agency itself.
Republicans, on the other hand, argued that Pruitt would return the EPA to its true mission of protecting the environment, and cease issuing what they characterized as harmful regulations.
Jeremy Dillon contributed to this report.