Republican members of the Senate committee in charge of approving Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt for a full chamber confirmation were forced to delay their scheduled vote after Democrats boycotted Wednesday’s hearing.
Under Senate rules, at least two members from each party must be present for a full quorum in order to vote. Other committees, such as the Senate finance committee, voted to suspend the quorum rules, although the environment and public works (EPW) committee members declined to follow their colleagues.
Instead, Republicans chastised the Democrats for "obstructing" Senate procedure. An ironic change in rhetoric after the Republican-controlled Senate under former President Barack Obama pushed Senate obstruction to unprecedented levels and lowered productivity to its lowest rate in decades, according to the Pew Research Center.
“There comes a point when vetting is turned into obstruction and that is what we're witnessing today,” Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said.
“This is simply a senatorial temper tantrum, and as all the parents know temper tantrums waste a lot of energy, but they don't accomplish anything,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Arkansas.
“I think we have to be the adults in the room. I think we have to act the like the adults in the room. I think we'll follow the rules but we will eventually approve Mr. Pruitt,” Sen. Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, said.
In 2013, both the former chairman of the committee, Sen. Jim Inhofe, and the current chairman Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, boycotted Obama’s EPA pick, Gina McCarthy.
In his closing remarks during Pruitt’s hearing Wednesday, however, Barrasso said, “I want to just close with stating that not having a vote on this nominee today, not organizing this important committee, is a shame.”
Earlier this week, Democrats on the committee said they had worries over Pruitt's failure to respond to document requests and uncertainty over potential conflicts of interests. They also said they thought his answers at the hearing lacked substance.
Pruitt's nomination has been historic. According to the committee, he answered more than 1,200 questions, both written and in person, surpassing any EPA nominee in history. His confirmation process has also been the longest in nearly two decades.
If he's confirmed, Pruitt would be the first Oklahoman since Gen. Patrick J. Hurley served as the secretary of war for President Herbert Hoover in the 1930s.
But for now, Pruitt's historic nomination is still up in the air. According to the EPW website, the committee is meeting Thursday morning, where they may choose to suspend the rules if Democrats continue their boycott.