Democrats are mounting a last-ditch effort to push Kathleen Hartnett-White, President Donald Trump’s controversial pick to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality, to withdraw her nomination.
With Republican efforts firmly focused on passing their tax overhaul bill, the Senate is unlikely to squeeze in confirmation votes for the remaining nominees before dispersing for the holidays. As a result, Senate leadership is required to table the nominations through a procedure known as a unanimous consent request ― essentially agreeing to pick up where they left off in the confirmation process when the Senate reconvenes.
On Tuesday, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) vowed in a press release to oppose any unanimous consent agreement that included Hartnett-White’s nomination. Excluding her would send her nomination back to the White House to begin the confirmation process anew during the next legislative session.
Earlier this month, Democrats accused Hartnett-White of plagiarism in her written responses to questions on climate change, environmental justice and air pollutants.
In his announcement, Carper cited her history of making bombastic statements untethered to scientific evidence. She has described carbon dioxide as a “harmless trace gas” and “plant food,” compared Pope Francis’ public calls to combat global warming to the Catholic Church’s arrest of Galileo for heresy in 1633, and credited fossil fuels for abolishing slavery. Last month, more than 300 scientists signed a letter urging the Senate to reject her on the grounds that “one thing more dangerous than climate change is lying.”
“There is no doubt that her views are extreme and, often times, her words are staggeringly inappropriate,” Carper said in a statement to HuffPost. “But they are her words that she has used repeatedly, and we cannot ignore them.”
Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted on Nov. 29 to advance the former Texas environmental state regulator despite a bruising confirmation hearing at which Hartnett-White repeatedly contradicted herself and failed to answer basic questions about science.
The Democratic effort to oppose her nomination comes a week after Michael Dourson, Trump’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency’s chemical safety division, withdrew his name from consideration amid mounting pressure. Dourson, a researcher whose work often bolstered the safety claims made by the chemical manufacturers who hired him, faced dwindling odds after two Republican senators signaled they planned to vote against his confirmation.
“Some of my Republican colleagues were willing to ignore Michael Dourson’s extreme views for a shortsighted political win, but we saw eventually that he was, in fact, too extreme to be confirmed by the Senate, even with a Republican majority,” Carper said. “We should not make the same mistake with Kathleen Hartnett-White who is unsuited to lead the Council on Environmental Quality.”
Other Trump nominees have dropped out in recent weeks due to a lack of basic qualifications. On Monday, judicial nominee Matthew Petersen quit after a video went viral of him failing to answer simple legal questions in his confirmation hearing. Sam Clovis, the Iowa talk radio host and political science professor Trump picked to become the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientist, withdrew his name from consideration last month after he became embroiled in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
“Kathleen Hartnett-White’s nomination is just as disturbing as Sam Clovis or Michael Dourson’s,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) told HuffPost by email. “She’s been nominated for work she clearly doesn’t understand.”
“The Senate clearly shouldn’t confirm this nominee,” he added.
If confirmed at a yet to be scheduled hearing, Hartnett-White would lead the president’s in-house environmental policy shop, responsible for implementing the National Environmental Policy Act across agencies.
She’s been nominated for work she clearly doesn’t understand. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
At her Nov. 8 confirmation hearing, the one-term Texas Commission on Environmental Quality chair turned think tank pundit stumbled when asked about climate change, admitting to having a “very superficial understanding” of how oceans absorb carbon dioxide emissions, and sighed in response to simple questions.
But Hartnett-White’s frazzled performance belied a long record of taking extreme stances to defend polluters.
“What you never hear and regrettably not even from our side is there is no environmental crisis,” she said in 2011 at an Americans for Prosperity conference entitled, “The EPA’s Job Crushing Regulatory Assault.” She added, “In fact, there’s almost no real environmental problems.”
Hartnett-White said “people do not die from particulate matter levels,” despite World Health Organization estimates that peg the number of worldwide deaths per year from particles in the air at 3 million. She also railed against the EPA’s rules to limit mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants.
That could raise concerns among Republicans like Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), who adopted the push to clean up mercury contamination as a key policy issue.
Alexander and Collins did not respond to repeated requests for comment.