WASHINGTON -- Republican senators boycotted a confirmation vote on President Barack Obama's pick to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday, saying they were "completely unsatisfied" with answers provided by Gina McCarthy on several topics.
This was the latest tactic in a series of procedural moves by Republicans that have made it difficult for Obama to get his second-term cabinet in place - and achieved what some say is a new record in the number of written questions asked to a nominee.
All eight Republicans on the Senate Environment Committee refused to participate in a scheduled vote on McCarthy, effectively stalling her nomination before it could advance to the next stage - a full Senate vote.
The White House responded with outrage. "The obstruction is reaching new levels of absurdity," Dan Pfeiffer, a top advisor to Obama, said on the social networking site Twitter. Republicans have argued that various EPA rules have hurt jobs and the coal industry because they cost too much to implement, and have accused the agency of not being transparent in its policies.
McCarthy was in charge of developing many of those regulations in her previous job at the EPA. She is well-known by lawmakers and her nomination was applauded by many industries regulated by the EPA.
David Vitter of Louisiana, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment committee, told reporters the boycott was not related to McCarthy's qualifications but to her refusal to answer questions about transparency within the agency.
Republicans asked her more than 1,000 questions after her official nomination hearing.
In contrast, Republicans asked Lisa Jackson, Obama's first EPA administrator, 118 questions after her nomination hearing, said a Democratic official familiar with the nomination process.
Lawmakers asked Jack Lew, now Treasury Secretary, a total of 462 written questions after his confirmation hearing earlier this year.
"Part of the goal is to wear down and make untenable the nomination," said George Washington University's Sarah Binder, an expert on Congress, who said in an interview that Obama has had a difficult time getting Senate approval for his cabinet choices compared to previous presidents.
Although the Democratic majority controls the Senate and its committees, congressional rules give some procedural advantages to the minority Republicans enabling them to stall or block legislation and nominees.
The boycott of McCarthy's vote comes a day after Republican senators used an obscure procedural rule to delay a scheduled committee vote on Obama's nominee for labor secretary, Thomas Perez.
The nomination of Ernest Moniz, Obama's pick to head the Energy Department, has also stalled over a dispute with a South Carolina senator about the government's management of a nuclear waste disposal project in the state.
Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan also had tough work getting Senate confirmation.
CARPER: 'ABOVE AND BEYOND'
McCarthy was a state environmental official in Connecticut and Massachusetts before joining the EPA in 2009. She was the top environmental enforcer for Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, when he was governor of Massachusetts.
Environmental groups called the Republican tactics "new lows" given her qualifications and popularity.
"By any measure, Gina McCarthy deserves to be confirmed, but Republicans on this committee are apparently more concerned with scoring political points than protecting public health," said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters.
Democratic Senator Tom Carper of Delaware said McCarthy had gone "above and beyond the requirements of a nominee" in answering more than 1,000 questions and meeting with almost half the 100-member Senate.
Wyoming Republican John Barrasso said the delay in McCarthy's nomination did not pose an operational problem for the agency, calling acting administrator Bob Perciasepe was "more than qualified" to run the EPA in the meantime.
In their letter to Boxer, Republican Senators noted that environment and public works committee Democrats, when in the minority, staged a similar boycott in 2003 of EPA nominee Michael Leavitt, forcing a vote to be rescheduled. Leavitt was ultimately confirmed.
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