The Senate confirmed President Obama’s nominees to head the Labor Department and the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday, clearing the decks of the controversial nominees that had threatened to push the Senate into a parliamentary meltdown just two days ago.
Thomas E. Perez was confirmed to be Labor Department secretary on a 54-46 party-line vote after having barely survived a GOP filibuster a day earlier. Meanwhile, Gina McCarthy was confirmed to be EPA administrator on a 59-40 vote.
If all Republicans who voted against Mr. Perez had decided to filibuster, they could have blocked his nomination. But thanks to a deal reached Tuesday, some Republicans agreed to let the nominees go through in exchange for Democrats agreeing not to use a shortcut to rewrite the rules and end the chance to filibuster executive branch nominees.
“As we all saw this week, the Senate came together. We talked to each other, we made bipartisan progress, and we were able to reduce the gridlock and approve President Obama’s nominees, and that was a very, very positive step forward for all of us,” said Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat.
Mr. Obama, in two statements, thanked the Senate for the votes, which he said help fill out his team.
Republicans had blocked Ms. McCarthy for months as they sought to force the EPA to agree to more transparency. The agency has been accused of failing to keep electronic records such as emails, and several former officials used private email accounts to conduct agency business.
But while some lawmakers opposed her specifically, most who voted against her said they were really sending a signal to Mr. Obama to rein in the agency.
“My fight is with President Obama and the EPA, the regulatory agency that has consistently placed unreasonable regulations and unobtainable standards on energy production, rather than focus on efforts to develop a domestic all-of-the-above energy strategy for the future,” said Sen. Joe Manchin III, a Democrat from West Virginia, a state where the EPA is often viewed as a hindrance to economic development.
For Republicans, though, Mr. Perez was even more controversial. They accused him of lying, of obstructing a congressional investigation and of putting his ideology ahead of the law in his tenure leading the Justice Department’s civil rights division in Mr. Obama’s first term.
“Based on the evidence, Tom Perez is more than just some left-wing ideologue — he’s a left-wing ideologue who appears perfectly willing to bend the rules to achieve his ends,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said.
Hispanic groups had made Mr. Perez’s confirmation a top priority, saying he would be a good addition to Mr. Obama’s Cabinet. Now they have turned their attention to the next major opening for the top job at the Homeland Security Department, where secretary Janet A. Napolitano is on the way out.
The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials said Mr. Obama should “act swiftly to ensure his Cabinet is fully representative of the diversity of this great nation by nominating a high level Latino candidate.”
The Senate now has confirmed four of the seven nominees who Democrats had said must be approved to prevent them from using the so-called “nuclear option,” a parliamentary shortcut to change the rules and limit filibusters.
As part of that deal, Mr. Obama has withdrawn two other nominees he made to the National Labor Relations Board, and replaced them with two new NLRB appointments.
The two withdrawn names were controversial because Mr. Obama had used his recess powers to appoint them earlier last year, but federal appeals courts have called those nominees into question, saying the president violated the Constitution in making the appointments.
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