The White House is headed for a showdown with Senate Republicans over President Obama's pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency.
In his climate-change speech Tuesday, Obama went out of his way to praise his nominee, Gina McCarthy, who is currently the assistant administrator for air quality at EPA.
"Gina has worked for the EPA in my administration, but she's also worked for five Republican governors," Obama said. "She's been held up for months, forced to jump through hoops no Cabinet nominee should ever have to—not because she lacks qualifications, but because there are too many in the Republican Party right now who think that the Environmental Protection Agency has no business protecting our environment from carbon pollution. The Senate should confirm her without any further obstruction or delay."
Obama's full-throttled defense of her in a major policy speech is a sign that the administration isn't backing down on getting McCarthy through the Senate, even as Obama is headed for another clash with Republicans over directing EPA to move ahead on controversial rules controlling greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he will try to schedule a vote on McCarthy's confirmation after the July Fourth recess. Thomas Perez, Obama's choice for Labor secretary, and Samantha Power, his nominee for U.N. Ambassador, are also still pending.
McCarthy's confirmation is currently being held up by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who is frustrated with an interagency review process EPA is involved in. Blunt has said his problem is not with McCarthy, but with the administration more generally. Yet even if Blunt lifts his hold, McCarthy will still face the hurdle of getting enough votes for cloture.
The controversy surrounding McCarthy's nomination has been inflamed by Obama's speech, which predictably infuriated Republicans, many of whom are already fuming over what they say is EPA's overzealous regulation of the coal industry.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo, whose state produces 40 percent of the coal in the entire country, argued Wednesday that the comments Obama made in his climate speech contradict what McCarthy told Congress in her confirmation hearing.
"EPA is not currently developing any existing source GHG regulations for power plants," McCarthy told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in April.
"Her response to the EPW committee with questions about existing coal-fired power plants, and then the president's speech, says to me either she is arrogant or ignorant in terms of her response," Barrasso said Wednesday. "Either she knew, and wasn't truthful with the committee. And if she didn't know, she should have known because she already has such an important role at EPA."
It is unclear how—or whether—Barrasso's accusation will be addressed.
But if Republicans do succeed in blocking her nomination, the administration has a fallback option: McCarthy could execute Obama's climate-change directives from her current post as EPA's top air chief. Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe could remain in his post indefinitely, which is allowed under EPA's organizational plan. Perciasepe even got some praise from Barrasso.
"He has a long history there," Barrasso said. "I think he'd be a better choice."