Senate keeps two of President Trump's Texas nominees waiting

Highlights

Combs has been caught in unrelated disputes and a logjam of nominees for environmental and energy positions.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., vowed to object to Hartnett White being carried over, calling her views “too extreme.”

A Senate rule for carrying over nominations into the next year requires a unanimous consent vote.

Two conservative Texas candidates for top environmental jobs in the Trump administration, Susan Combs and Kathleen Hartnett White, have had their nominations derailed by a procedural move and must be renominated by the White House.

The Senate on Thursday agreed to carry over a list of nominees who had not yet been confirmed by the chamber into the next session of Congress that begins Jan. 1. But neither Combs nor White were on the list.

Combs, a former Texas comptroller nominated to be an assistant secretary of the interior for policy, management and budget, has been delayed for a Senate vote since August when she was approved by the Senate Energy and Environment Committee.

While she has not personally been controversial, Combs has been caught in unrelated disputes and by a logjam of other nominees for environmental and energy positions. Her nomination vote by committee was delayed suddenly when lawmakers fought over the Affordable Care Act. More recently, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., had placed a hold on her nomination and those of others as part of his concerns about administration environmental policy. However, he lifted it last week.

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White, a former chairwoman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, has proven to be very controversial. Her skeptical views on climate change rocked Democrats considering her to chair the Council on Environmental Quality, the top environmental position in the White House.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, announced this week that he would object to her nomination being carried over — a usually routine procedure — saying her views were “too extreme.” A Senate rule requires that pending nominations get a unanimous consent vote if someone nominated in the first year of a session has not been approved by the end of the year.

After the Senate completed its work Thursday evening before breaking for Christmas, Carper said, “Ms. White’s concerning record, unacceptable statements and shockingly poor performance before the Environment and Public Works Committee last month have elicited serious concerns on both sides of the aisle and all across the country. I am pleased that Ms. White’s nomination has been returned to the White House, and I am hopeful that President Trump will seize on the opportunity to start the new year and the new session of Congress off on the right foot by nominating a new and better qualified candidate to lead this consequential office.”

During her confirmation hearing in November, White said, “I’m not a scientist, but in my personal capacity, I have many questions that remain unanswered by current climate policy.” Expressing a view voiced by many conservatives, she said, “I think we indeed need to have more precise explanations of the human role and the natural role.”

White, who was approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee along party lines, is director of the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Armstrong Center for Energy and the Environment.

The White House did not immediately respond to inquiries over whether Combs and White would be renominated.

Meanwhile, another Texas nominee, Linda Capuano, a fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, was quickly approved Thursday night to be administrator of the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the Energy Department.

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According to the Political Appointee Tracker, a joint effort by The Washington Post and the nonpartisan nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, Capuano’s appointment is among 240 Senate confirmations so far in this administration. The tracker also reports:

• 131 Trump nominees await confirmation.

• The Senate has rejected 14 of the president’s nominees.

• Trump has made no nominations for 249 of 600 key executive branch positions, the bulk of which are in the State Department where there are 71 vacancies.

The vacancies are a problem because under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, new presidents have 300 days from their swearing-in to fill leadership posts with appointees. The 1998 law was meant to stop presidents from evading the Senate confirmation process by placing people in acting leadership roles indefinitely.

That deadline has passed. Any acting directorships in the Trump administration’s executive agencies have expired, and any actions taken by agencies that don’t have confirmed appointees at the helm may face legal challenge, according to the Congressional Research Service.

“If such a challenge is successful,” according to the report provided to Congress on Oct. 30, “a court would be likely to vacate the challenged agency action.”