TCS Daily

Bush Hating Claims an Innocent Victim

By Nick Schulz - October 3, 2003 12:00 AM

Several Democrats on Wednesday boycotted a Senate committee vote that would have sent the nomination of Utah Governor Michael O. Leavitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency to the full Senate floor for consideration. The unusual step means further delays in filling the top position at the agency.


While unprecedented in Senate history, the boycott of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee  hearing (click on link to see members of the committee) comes as little surprise in an increasingly partisan Washington. Democratic efforts to keep Gov. Leavitt in political limbo aren't about Mike Leavitt -- they're about scoring political points against President Bush.


Using the Leavitt nomination as an excuse to hammer President Bush started late last month. Writing about Leavitt's September 23 confirmation, Katherine Seelye of the New York Times reported:


"Senate Democrats used the confirmation hearing today on Gov. Michael O. Leavitt of Utah, President Bush's choice for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, as a forum to sharply criticize the administration's environmental record, all but ignoring the nominee sitting in front of them...


"... Mr. Leavitt faced almost no questions about his 11-year record as governor."


There's a reason there were no questions about his record. Leavitt is by all accounts a committed public servant who is respected by Republicans and Democrats alike. And he's in touch with mainstream views on the need for a healthy environment. He's amply qualified to run the EPA.


He was acclaimed by Maryland's environment-friendly former governor Parris Glendening, a Democrat, who applauded Leavitt for "bipartisan leadership in bringing issues of growth and quality of life to the fore."


Some of the greenest members on the Environment and Public Works Committee even sang his praises. Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat from Oregon described Leavitt as "somebody that I have known as straightforward and decent and bipartisan."


Indeed, EPW member and Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Joseph Lieberman -- who once claimed President Bush has "the worst environmental record in history" -- was so untroubled by Bush's nominee that he didn't even bother to show up for Leavitt's confirmation hearing. According to the Wall Street Journal, Lieberman attended a fundraiser instead.


So if Leavitt is not a controversial nominee, why did all the committee Democrats (along with Independent Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont) boycott this week's vote? Democrats claim Leavitt hasn't adequately answered the over 400 written questions submitted to him by the committee after his hearing. To put that in perspective, Carol Browner, President Clinton's EPA nominee, was given 103 questions to answer in writing.


In a letter to the EPW Chairman James Inhofe, the Democrats on the committee say that "our review of these responses reveals that they are incomplete in numerous respects."


But a Capitol Hill source who has seen the Leavitt responses says that's nonsense -- Leavitt provided page after page of detailed answers to questions about his record as governor. He provided the committee with responses similar to those submitted by both Browner and the recently-departed EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman during their successful confirmation proceedings. Leavitt even consulted the Whitman and Browner responses to similar questions as guidance for his answers.


It's tempting to throw up one's hands and say that this is Washington and politics as usual. Except that Bush's environmental policies have been, by any reasonable objective measure, pretty good. To cite just one example, Time magazine's Gregg Easterbrook, who has been critical of some of the administration's environmental policies, recently wrote:


"Air pollution is declining under Bush, just as it declined under Bill Clinton... 'Aggregate emissions,' the sum of air-pollution categories, have fallen 48% since 1970, even though the U.S. population rose 39% during that period Local newscasts have recently begun to emphasize code red and code orange ozone-warning days, making smog seem more prevalent. Yet the overall number of bad-air days has actually been falling steadily."


Democrats are playing political games with an admirable and decent public official. Both Leavitt, and the American people, deserve better.


The only question that remains is whether or not there will be a political price to pay for such brazen partisanship. For example, Sen. Lieberman has introduced a bill (co-sponsored with Arizona Senator John McCain) he hopes to pass this month to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. It's basically a significant tax on energy use. Sen. Lieberman's decision to forgo a respected public servant's nomination hearing in order to attend a fundraiser -- only then to maneuver to keep his confirmation on hold -- was callous even by Washington standards. Will the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill return the favor and show the Senator from Connecticut the same respect he showed Gov. Mike Leavitt?


Nick Schulz is editor of


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