Right-wing obstructionism reached another low today when Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee would not even show up to vote today on the nomination of Gina McCarthy to be director of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The spectacle was the equivalent of the six-year-old, willful diva-to-be slamming the doll on the ground and stalking off in defiance of a reasonable request from an adult, screaming, "I don't want to!"
The ostensible reason Sen. David Vitter, R-La., gave for the tantrum in an official committee statement was that committee Republicans "had not received answers to their questions" from McCarthy and that the EPA "stonewalled" on four out of "five very reasonable and basic requests" in conjunction with McCarthy's nomination.
But committee Democrats were quick to point out that in fact McCarthy had answered some 1,000 questions posed to her. The real issue, the Republicans' statements make clear, is that they did not like the answers McCarthy gave.
Some of the "basic requests" Republicans on the committee are insisting on go to the fundamental ways the EPA goes about doing its job of protecting the environment. For example, committee Republicans want to change how the agency assesses the economic impact of its regulations, so as to minimize the positive economic effects of an environmental regulation on the economy as a whole while emphasizing the burden of a regulation on a particular set of businesses. That would enable coal-producing power plants, for example, to justify refusing to use costly air-cleaning technology or switching to a cleaner fuel, even though the benefits to society as a whole would outweigh the costs to the owners of the plants.
The Republicans couch their actions as a call for greater EPA transparency and accountability. John Walke wrote today on the National Resources Defense Council's blog that the EPA under the Obama administration does have a public transparency record that ranges from "fair" to "deplorable." But, he adds, "These Republican Senators appear to be counting on the public and media accepting at face value their transparency talking points, while not looking past them to examine the actual ingredients that make up the Senators’ self-concocted transparency bromide."
To understand what's underneath what Senate Republicans are calling "lifting the veil of secrecy" at the EPA, it helps to remember that Vitter is inheriting the mantle passed to him from previous Republican ranking member and climate-change denier Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. ("Man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.") It also helps to remember what passes for environmental "fact" among Republicans in the House of Representatives: Back in 2011 Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, asserted at a congressional hearing that there were no "medical negatives" from having large amounts of mercury, sulfur dioxide and other particulates from fossil fuels in the air.
Take a deep breath.
This is the latest in a long-running pattern of obstruction undertaken by the Republican minority in the Senate that has, among other things, meant that 83 high-level Obama administration government appointees, including 29 judges and three Cabinet secretaries, have yet to be confirmed by the Senate.
George Washington University scholar Sarah Binder told Reuters that with the 1,000 questions that Republicans pummeled McCarthy with – an apparent record for an executive branch nominee – "part of the goal is to wear down and make untenable the nomination" of McCarthy.
And it's not just McCarthy. Republicans in the Senate are also stalling the nomination of Thomas Perez as Labor secretary and Ernest Moniz as Energy secretary.
Having not been able to win control over both houses of Congress and the White House legitimately through the ballot box, or steal control through voter suppression, Republicans think they can get their way by standing in the way of the majority that wants to serve the interests of the people who elected them.
That's the reason why Sen. Bernie Sanders is using the stonewalling of McCarthy to renew his call to reform the Senate filibuster. He is quoted in Politico as saying, "If we bring this nomination to the floor and there’s a request for 60 votes — which we are not going to get — I think it is time for the Democratic leadership to do what the American people want, and that is to have a majority rule in the United States Senate."
The Republican refusal to even show up at McCarthy's confirmation vote today – after all, if they didn't think she was qualified for the job based on the answers to their 1,000 questions, they could have simply voted "no" – was worse than those scenes of crazed, not-to-be-reasoned-with divas on cheap reality cable shows. We're not simply talking about mind-numbing entertainment. This is eroding our democracy and the ability of government, in the case of the EPA, to protect the right of the people to live in a clean, healthful environment. The right-wing obstruction drama is a reality show that needs to be taken off the air before it does any more damage.