Hold on Obama's EPA Nominee Might Be Lifted This Week

WASHINGTON – A dispute over a local flood-control project appears to be the only issue standing in the way of a Senate confirmation vote on Gina McCarthy, the White House nominee for Environmental Protection Agency administrator.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) remains dissatisfied with the Obama administration’s approach to the long-delayed Bayou-New Madrid Floodway Project near Bird’s Point on the Mississippi River and has placed a hold on a floor vote. Officials maintain the clash should be resolved relatively soon and the McCarthy vote likely will occur next week.

The Blunt hold comes on the heels of steps taken by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, who threatened to filibuster the McCarthy confirmation vote unless the EPA agreed to several requests regarding agency transparency.

Vitter announced Tuesday that he was satisfied with the agency’s efforts to address his concerns and said he would not block confirmation from moving ahead.

"I've had very productive conversations with EPA over the last several weeks and believe the agency has taken significant steps forward on our five transparency requests," Vitter said. "These are huge, significant steps forward to bringing transparency to the agency and I see no further reason to block Gina McCarthy's nomination and I'll support moving to an up-or-down vote on her nomination."

The McCarthy nomination is one of a handful of confirmation votes backed up on the Senate schedule because of Republican concerns. Obama’s nomination of Thomas E. Perez to serve as Labor secretary remains stalled, along with Richard Cordray’s nomination to head the Consumer Financial Protection Board. A handful of White House appointments to the National Labor Relations Board also remain mired.

Several of those nominations are contentious and won’t be easily resolved. Continuing delays have led Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, to reconsider changing the upper chamber’s rules to make it easier to work around minority party objections and bring nominations to a vote.

Currently, nominees to key posts are subject to filibuster, meaning they require 60 votes for approval. Majority Democrats now control 54 seats including two independents, meaning they can’t muster sufficient support to slide a nominee through.

Reid met with the Democratic caucus on Thursday with the nominations issue on the agenda.

Democrats at the outset of the 113th Congress internally debated whether to impose what has come to be known as the “nuclear option,” a change in Senate rules that would prohibit filibusters on executive nominations. Reid demurred and instead adopted modest changes that made it easier to open consideration. He vowed not to seek further rules changes if the GOP cooperated.

Since then the GOP has attempted to filibuster the nomination of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and slowed the progress of other potential administration officials.