Republicans to Force Leavitt Vote; Aim to End Democratic Debate on Bush's Environmental Policies

Article excerpt

Byline: Stephen Dinan, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Senate faces a showdown today on the Bush administration's nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

Republicans, trying to end objections from a handful of Democratic senators who want to block Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt, have scheduled a cloture vote, which would limit debate and force an up-or-down vote soon. To pass, the cloture motion would require approval of 60 senators.

Most Democrats say they don't dislike Mr. Leavitt, but some are using his nomination as an opportunity to force a broader debate on the administration's environmental policy. The three senators seeking the Democratic nomination for president have placed a "hold" on his nomination - a way of drawing out debate and blocking action.

Mike Briggs, a spokesman for Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat and a presidential candidate, said Mr. Edwards' objection to Mr. Leavitt is not personal, but rather based on concerns about how familiar Mr. Leavitt is with Clean Air Act mandates.

Another objector is Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat. Mrs. Clinton has said she opposes Mr. Leavitt because she wants the administration to provide answers about air quality from the rubble at the site of the World Trade Center in the days immediately after the September 11 attacks.

Republicans called those holds "political blackmail."

"They see the whole thing as a zero-sum game, a proxy for their political interests, and they've chosen obstruction as their sole tactic," said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and member of the Environment and Public Works Committee. "It is my hope that these games will end on Monday, that the obstruction will end, and this outstanding administrator will get a vote."

Republican vote-counters said they expect all Republicans to support the nomination, and are cautiously optimistic they have the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. Many Democrats have said they support Mr. Leavitt, though they oppose the Bush administration's environmental policies. …