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The Senate passed a cloture vote Thursday moving lawmakers closer toward confirming an energy lobbyist as deputy head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
A procedural vote for Andrew Wheeler passed 53 to 45. Wheeler received support from all Republicans who were present. Only three Democrats voted for Wheeler, who is an EPA chief Scott Pruitt acolyte but with more experience navigating D.C. politics.
Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia all voted for cloture. Each of them is running for reelection this year in heavily Republican states. Other Democrats are wary about Wheeler, who would immediately replace Pruitt if the controversial EPA head resigns or is fired.
“The circumstances regarding Mr. Wheeler have changed since we had our nomination hearing and vote with the cloud over Administrator Pruitt,” Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland said Wednesday. “I think it would be best advised to hold off on this vote to see if we are voting on the acting administrator or the deputy administrator.”
The Senate generally votes on final confirmation within hours of the cloture vote. Democrats could force the Senate to debate Wheeler’s nomination for up to 30 hours.
Wheeler co-heads Faegre Baker Daniels, a law and consulting firm, and was previously registered as a lobbyist for coal-mining giant Murray Energy, but stepped down in 2017 before President Donald Trump tapped him for the EPA job. He might offer a more deft touch to regulatory rollback than Pruitt, who’s employed more of a bull-rush mentality to deconstructing Obama-era climate rules.
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