Merkley, fellow Democrats boycott vote on new EPA chief

Wyden meanwhile criticizes GOP for breaking rules

WASHINGTON - Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., joined all nine other Democrats on the Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday to boycott a vote on Environmental Protection Agency nominee Scott Pruitt until Pruitt fully answers the committee’s questions:

Democrats, outside the hearing chamber, complained about Pruitt not providing answers regarding his record as Oklahoma attorney general, while Republicans inside the chamber vented about the boycott.

"It is a disappointing turn of events," said Republican Sen. John Barrasso, chairman of the committee, after announcing the boycott. "This will impact future EPA nominees. The precedent for this delay will likely have longtime impacts after this nominee has left office."

Here's Merkley's full statement, in a news release he issued:

“EPA nominee Scott Pruitt failed to answer important questions about his ties to industry. That is why today I am joining Senator Tom Carper and my fellow Democrats on the Environment and Public Works Committee to boycott the committee’s consideration of Pruitt’s nomination until he answers these questions.

“We want to know: what was Pruitt talking about with companies like Devon Energy while serving as Oklahoma attorney general? When I asked him in the hearing why he copied and pasted Devon Energy’s words verbatim onto official letterhead for the State of Oklahoma, he evaded my questions.

"Throughout, he consistently repeated ‘such communications can be requested from the Oklahoma Office of the Attorney General,’ though he knows his office of the Oklahoma Attorney General has a track record of sitting on such information requests for years. What is Scott Pruitt trying to hide?

“We also have significant questions about how he will deal with the many conflicts of interest that will come up. He has spent most of his time as Attorney General suing the agency he is now on the verge of leading. Will he permanently recuse himself from anything having to do with those lawsuits?

“If he cannot answer the multitude of questions we’ve asked about his record and views, neither we nor the American people can have confidence that Pruitt is working to keep air and water clean, rather than protecting the profits of polluters.

“Until Scott Pruitt answers these important questions; until he clarifies his positions and tells us how he is going to resolve the many conflicts of interest his nomination poses, it would be irresponsible for the committee to vote on his nomination.

"Committee Republicans should stand up to Trump and insist on the time to finish the job, but if they don't, Democrats on the committee won't be complicit. The American people demand and deserve accountability and transparency in their government. That means a thorough vetting of Pruitt,” Merkley said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, reacted to committee Republicans forcing through the nominations of the president's Health and Human Services nominee, Rep. Tom Price and Treasury secretary nominee Steven. Mnuchin. Wyden said the GOP members voted to break committee rules to allow them to do so:

“It’s deeply troubling to me that Republicans on the Finance Committee chose to break the rules in the face of strong evidence of two nominees’ serious ethical problems.” Wyden said.

“Today, for the first time in history, the Senate Finance Committee broke the rules to push through on a partisan basis two nominees; one, Congressman Tom Price, whose stock trades call into question whether he will work in the public interest or his own, and the other, Steven Mnuchin, who appears to have misled the committee on his company’s foreclosure practices after the Great Recession.

“Boycotts of committee meetings are not unheard of – my Republican colleagues, led by Chairman Hatch, took such a step just a few years ago. The information Finance Democrats want about these controversial nominees is straightforward, and is the same as we’ve requested numerous times during the committee’s thorough vetting process,” Wyden said.

Earlier Wednesday, Senate Finance Committee Democrats sent a letter to Chairman Orin Hatch. asking the nominees to submit complete, accurate responses to repeated requests for information that is critical to the Committee’s bipartisan vetting process.

Wyden sent another letter to the CEO of Innate Immunotherapeutics Tuesday night to provide additional information to assist the committee’s efforts to clarify whether Congressman Price received a special deal on stock investments in the firm.

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