The Senate confirmed Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to become President Trump's administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The 52-46 vote came during a rare Friday floor session, which was held amid an intensified campaign by Democratic lawmakers to stall the vote.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said "enough is enough" to the Democratic opposition on the floor ahead of the vote. He said confirming Trump's Cabinet has taken the "longest" amount of time "since George Washington," which shouldn't be seen as a record of pride for the minority party.
McConnell said the delaying tactics "won't change the outcome of the election last November," but instead are keeping the government from serving the American people.
As McConnell made the comments, Democrats led by the environment committee's top Democrat, Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, were prodding the Republican leadership to delay the vote until Pruitt's office releases nearly 3,000 emails, ordered by a district court judge Thursday evening. Democrats expect the emails to show numerous discussions with the fossil-fuel industry and to show Pruitt's alignment with groups that have opposed EPA regulations. A vote to delay the vote until Feb. 27 failed.
Democrats also have argued that Pruitt cannot be the head of EPA while he is leading litigation against a number of the agency's regulations and is a champion for the fossil-fuel industry. They have urged him to withdraw from all pending litigation against the EPA to be confirmed. Pruitt is one of the 28 state attorney generals suing the EPA over its Clean Power Plan, the centerpiece of the Obama administration's climate change agenda. He and the other attorneys general argue that the plan oversteps the agency's legal authority and is unconstitutional.
Democrats also criticized Pruitt for being a climate change skeptic, specifically, manmade use of fossil fuels being its primary cause. East Coast senators stressed during floor debate that sea-level rise, resulting from increasing global temperatures, is threatening to submerge much of their states' coastlines.
Anti-fossil fuel groups denounced Friday's vote as a step backward for climate change action. "If you don't believe in climate science, you don't belong at the EPA," said 350.org Executive Director May Boeve. "Scott Pruitt not only fails to meet the basic criteria for the job — he's fought this agency at every turn, and Oklahomans paid the price with their health and safety."
Pruitt was asked more than 200 questions at last month's confirmation hearing, where Democrats stretched the proceedings for a record-setting six hours. He also was asked more than 1,000 additional written questions, which Democrats said were not answered adequately.
"Attorney General Pruitt has answered more questions than any EPA administrator nominee on record," Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, in a statement to the Washington Examiner. "He has been fully vetted. He has fully cooperated with the committee and deserves an expeditious vote by the full Senate."
Democrats boycotted the environment committee's vote on Pruitt's confirmation earlier this month. The committee cannot hold a vote without a quorum, which must include at least one Democrat being present. So Barrasso suspended Senate rules to hold a vote without the Democrats' participation. The committee voted 11-0 to send him to the floor for a final vote.
Democratic Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York said Friday that the lawsuit would benefit special interest groups that were also campaign contributors to Pruitt's run for attorney general. On the floor, Schumer said the vote should be pushed back until after the emails from his office are released on Tuesday in order to vet the extent of influence of special interest groups on Pruitt.
"It is regrettable that they refuse to wait for the release of these documents before voting on Mr. Pruitt's nomination," Carper. said The court's ruling "should finally give my Republican colleagues pause," he said. "It would be wholly irresponsible to vote on this nominee this week knowing that we don't have the full picture. If we are going to do the job that the American people sent us here to do, we must carefully review this new information in order to better evaluate just what kind of EPA administrator Scott Pruitt would be."
Pruitt's office said in a statement that it is reviewing the court order and has not made a decision on the release of the emails.
The Oklahoma attorney general's office argues that it is complying with a public records request made two years ago by a non-governmental organization, which later initiated the court action because of delays in getting the records. The office says it is responding to the request in accordance with its first-come, first-serve policy. A little more than 400 emails were released in the previous months.
The remaining emails are expected to be released Tuesday, and Democrats are asking for the vote to be held after that since the Senate will be on recess next week.