May 15, 2013

Senator Warren Denounces Republican Obstructionism of Gina McCarthy Nomination for EPA Administrator

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator Elizabeth Warren delivered remarks on the floor of the Senate today calling for a vote to confirm Massachusetts native Gina McCarthy as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and denouncing Senate Republicans’ obstructionism.  Last week, Senate Republicans took the highly unusual step of boycotting the Environment and Public Works Committee markup – a procedural stunt to stall McCarthy’s nomination.  In Senator Warren’s remarks, she called on Republicans to stop abusing filibuster rules and using procedural tactics to prevent the votes of Gina McCarthy and other Administration nominees.

For a video of the Senator’s speech, visit here. Her full remarks, as prepared for delivery, are as follows:

I rise today to ask my colleagues to do something so simple, so obvious, that I am surprised it is even necessary to ask. I ask my colleagues to give a simple vote to the President’s nominee to head the EPA.

This is not fancy or ambitious – it is just a basic principle of good government under our Constitutional system. When the founders of our Republic came together and wrote the Constitution, they knew that the President would need help in administering this great and expansive nation.

Without help – without a government that was staffed – justice would not be established, our common defense would be threatened, and the blessings of liberty we hope to secure through our laws would go unfulfilled.

The founders of our Republic gave to the President the task of nominating individuals to serve, and gave us the responsibility to advise on and consent to these appointments.

For more than 200 years, this process has worked.  Presidents over the years have nominated thousands of qualified men and women willing to serve their country to key executive branch positions.  The Senate has considered nominations in a timely fashion and taken up or down votes.

Of course, there have been bumps along the way, but we’ve never—never—seen anything like this.  Time and again, members of this body have resorted to procedural technicalities and flat-out obstructionism to block qualified nominees. 

At the moment, there are 85 judicial vacancies in the U.S. Courts,  some of which are classified as “judicial emergencies.”  That is more than double what the number of judicial vacancies was at a comparable point during President George W. Bush’s second term. And yet, right now, there are 10 nominees who are awaiting a vote – and haven’t yet gotten one.

But that is not all. The Secretary of Defense’s nomination was held up for weeks – and then filibustered. The nominee for Secretary of the Labor – Tom Perez – has been held up on an obscure technical maneuver.  And then of course there is the determined effort to block Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – not because he is unqualified.  In fact, he has received praise from industry and consumer groups alike—and even the Republicans who block him have praised his fairness and even-handedness. No, Rich Cordray is blocked because members of this body don’t like the agency he leads.  They know they don’t have the votes to get rid of it or weaken it, and so instead are holding the director nomination hostage.

And now, we get to Gina McCarthy. 

This past Thursday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee was scheduled to vote on Gina McCarthy’s nomination to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.  Right before the scheduled vote, all the Republicans in the committee decided not to show up.  Under Senate rules, this meant that there was no quorum, and that the vote could not take place. 

The President has done his job.  He named an outstanding nominee for Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy.  Gina has dedicated her professional life to the protection of our public health and to the stewardship of our environment.  She was confirmed to her previous position at the EPA as assistant administrator for air and radiation by voice vote without objection.   Just to be clear – that means that most of the members of this chamber have voted to approve her once before.

Gina also has a long record for working effectively across party lines.  She has served under Republican and Democratic governors alike – including working for Governor Mitt Romney, the most recent Republican Presidential nominee.  Her record in Massachusetts was stellar, and she has done all of us in the Commonwealth proud through her service in Washington.

Gina herself has also done her job—and more. She answered a staggering 1,120 questions from the Environment and Public Works Committee.  That is the largest number of questions ever asked of a nominee facing Senate confirmation.  To put this in perspective, four years ago, the last confirmed Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, was asked 157 questions during her confirmation process.  

When Congress convened in January, many of us—both veterans and newcomers—were concerned that this kind of obstructionism would persist in this Congress.  We pushed hard for changes to the filibuster rules. We understood the passions on both side of the issue, and we listened to our colleagues.  Ultimately, the two sides reached a compromise – a compromise that many of us were concerned about, but it included a clear understanding that the Democrats would not make substantial changes to the filibuster and, in turn, the Republicans would not abuse its use.

But in the past three months, abuse has been piled on abuse.  Republicans have prevented votes on judges, on agency heads, and on administration secretaries. 

This is wrong. Republicans can vote no on any nominee they choose, but blocking a vote is nothing more than obstructionism—blocking the business of government, the business of protecting people from cheating credit card companies or from mercury in the water or from unfair labor practices.  This must stop.

The President has done his job.  Gina McCarthy has done her job.  Now it is time for the Senate to do its job.  Gina McCarthy deserves a vote.