- The Washington Times - Monday, October 27, 2003

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton dropped her objection yesterday to the Bush administration’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, clearing the way for Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt to be confirmed by the Senate today.

Mrs. Clinton had tried to hold up Mr. Leavitt’s confirmation as leverage to get information from the White House about indoor air quality around the ruins of the World Trade Center in the days after September 11.

Meetings between Mrs. Clinton and the Bush administration began about six weeks ago and led to the agreement yesterday.

“We have reached agreement with the White House for additional testing to verify that residences that have been cleaned have not been recontaminated,” Mrs. Clinton said.

The Senate had been prepared yesterday to vote for cloture, a parliamentary procedure to get around blocks and force a final up-or-down vote on a nomination or bill. Republicans were confident of winning the vote. Faced with that prospect, Democrats gave in.

Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said he expects Mr. Leavitt to garner at least 70 votes today.

At least five other senators also had said they would try to block Mr. Leavitt’s nomination, but those objections — including those of all three Democratic presidential hopefuls in the Senate — were removed, and the nomination was allowed to proceed.

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, one of those hopefuls, praised the deal last night as providing an “opportunity to protect public health.”

Still, Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat and one of those who had tried to hold up the nomination, said he would vote against Mr. Leavitt anyway.

“Mr. Leavitt appears to believe that ‘he who enforces least, enforces best,’” said Mr. Lautenberg, accusing the governor of “a knowing disregard for the health problems caused by the corporate polluters.”

“Putting Mr. Leavitt at the helm of the nation’s environment is a bad idea, and I cannot support this nomination,” he said.

Many Democrats said they were opposing Mr. Leavitt to protest the administration’s environmental policies rather than the nominee himself.

“What we saw today was that a majority of the Democrat caucus was unwilling to continue the partisan games leveled against Governor Leavitt,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and member of the committee. “I can only hope that they will have a similar epiphany when it comes to the president’s judicial nominees, but I’m not holding my breath.”

Democrats have sustained filibusters on three judicial nominees and two bills this year, spanning 13 votes, but Democratic leaders weren’t pushing the party to unify behind this filibuster as they have with judges.

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