Sen. David Vitter
Sen. David Vitter says he’s now OK with the EPA having a leader.
Derek Bridges

Gina McCarthy is one step closer to being confirmed as administrator of the EPA, after a key Republican senator dropped his filibuster threat. But other GOP senators are still opposed, so the absurdly long wait to fill the spot — a record-breaking 146 days and counting — isn’t over yet.

McCarthy, currently assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, was nominated by President Obama for the country’s top environmental job in early March. But Republicans have blocked her confirmation, taking the opportunity to accuse the EPA of insufficient transparency, among other transgressions.

One of those obstructionists has been Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), but on Tuesday he relented, announcing on his website that he would support allowing a Senate vote on the nomination, which is expected next week:

Vitter (R-La.), top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), today said that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made major progress on the five transparency requests the EPW Republicans have been demanding throughout the Gina McCarthy nomination process. In a May 16 letter sent to the EPA, Vitter said if the EPA made progress on the requests, he intended to support handling the McCarthy nomination on the Senate floor without a filibuster. Today, he agreed to fulfill that commitment after receiving historic agreements from the EPA.

Obama administration officials hope Vitter’s volte-face will convince some of his colleagues to drop their opposition. From a Tuesday article in Politico:

It remains to be seen how yielding other Republican critics of McCarthy’s will be, although observers have said for some time that the Senate is likely to confirm her.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) has had a hold on McCarthy’s nomination over issues in his state. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) — who held up her nomination to head the agency’s air office in 2009 — has remained staunchly opposed to McCarthy becoming administrator, particularly because of the agency’s climate change regulations.

“We certainly hope that the caucus falls in line with Sen. Vitter and supports an up and down vote on McCarthy’s nomination,” an administration official told POLITICO on Tuesday. “I think this will certainly help move the GOP caucus.”

Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) broke into a wide smile when a POLITICO reporter told her about Vitter’s statement.

But by Wednesday morning, Politico was reporting that hurdles still remain:

Just hours after Vitter (R-La.) announced yesterday that he would not support filibustering McCarthy’s nomination, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said his long-standing hold on her remains. And several Republicans who had been seen as possible McCarthy supporters signaled this week that they’re on the fence.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are reportedly mulling a procedural strategy, the so-called “nuclear option,” that could see McCarthy’s nomination approved by a simple majority vote, which would circumvent opposition from the minority Republicans. “I’m hoping very much that if there is an obstruction that we will simply use our parliamentary options to get a 51-vote confirmation on her,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said.