- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 28, 2003

The Senate yesterday confirmed Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in an overwhelming 88-8 vote.

Some Democrats had threatened to block his confirmation and Republicans had braced for a filibuster. But opposition melted away Monday as Democrats realized Mr. Leavitt had unanimous support among Republicans and strong support among Democrats.

Republicans said Mr. Leavitt, who is in his third term as governor of Utah, is so clearly qualified that Democrats had to back down.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, said that “The record is clear that Michael Leavitt is a champion of the environment.”

Even some of those who fought Mr. Leavitt admitted they had nothing against him, but rather were using him to make clear their objections to the Bush administration’s environmental policy.

Mr. Leavitt succeeds former administrator Christine Todd Whitman.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, and the three presidential candidates serving in the Senate led the opposition to Mr. Leavitt, and initially forced Republicans to schedule a “cloture” vote to overcome their block. That would have made Republicans earn 60 votes to stop a filibuster and force a final up-or-down vote.

But on Monday Mrs. Clinton struck a deal with the White House in which the administration promised to do more testing of air quality around ground zero, the spot of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Mrs. Clinton withdrew her objection and ended up voting for Mr. Leavitt.

Among the eight Democrats who voted against Mr. Leavitt were Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, Jon Corzine and Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey and Charles E. Schumer of New York.

Mr. Lautenberg had wanted to postpone the confirmation voted until the Congressional Research Service concluded its evaluation of accusations about the governor’s poor environmental record in Utah. He said the report was needed to get credible answers about Mr. Leavitt’s enforcement record to make an informed decision.

The other opponents could have still objected and forced a “cloture” vote, but did not. Some contented themselves with voting against Mr. Leavitt’s nomination, while all three presidential candidates missed the vote entirely.

Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, questioned their absence.

“To me, this shows a fundamental lack of respect for the nominee, and I believe in some instances Gov. Leavitt was treated unfairly and unduly harshly throughout the nominating process,” Mr. Inhofe said.

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, one of the presidential candidates, released a statement that he still opposed Mr. Leavitt and he explained his absence.

“It was a foregone conclusion that the Republican leadership’s efforts to move his nomination would succeed, regardless of my vote,” he said. “I have made every effort to cast my vote when it appears it would be decisive, but in this case it clearly [was] not.”

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