WASHINGTON – The Senate early Friday confirmed President Bush's nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency (search) and was poised to approve a new chief for the office of the U.S. Trade Representative, ending a standoff with two Democrats who had delayed votes to protest the administration's environmental and trade policies.
The Senate voted 61-37 to break a procedural roadblock and then quickly approved Stephen Johnson (search), the EPA's acting chief, to serve as the agency's next administrator.
Senators then moved to a post-midnight debate on Rep. Rob Portman (search), R-Ohio, the nominee to lead the office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the agency that negotiates trade agreements and leads efforts to resolve trade disputes.
Both were popular choices, but their confirmations were slowed by a Senate tradition in which a single senator can put a hold on a nomination, sometimes for reasons unrelated to the candidate.
In the case of Johnson, a career EPA employee, Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., blocked a vote because he said the EPA for three years had ignored his repeated requests for an analysis of how the president's proposals to reduce air pollution compared to different approaches proposed by Carper and other lawmakers.
Carper said his argument was never with Johnson and his action had "sent a clear message that the White House and federal agencies have a responsibility to provide Congress with information that will help us write good, balanced legislation."
Portman's vote was stalled by Sen. Evan Bayh (search), D-Ind., who said the administration has been remiss in enforcing trade agreements and demanded a vote on his legislation that would allow the United States to apply anti-subsidy laws against China and other non-market economies.
Bayh, in a statement, said he had agreed to end his hold after Portman had personally pledged to get tough on China trade and to examine China's subsidy practices. Portman also promised to visit Indiana to meet manufacturers and workers hurt by unfair trade tactics. Bayh said he had a commitment that his legislation would be considered at Senate Finance Committee hearings on U.S.-China trade.
Portman, who in his 12 years in the House rose to become a liaison between GOP (search) leaders and the White House, succeeds Robert Zoellick, who has taken over the No. 2 post at the State Department. Bush nominated Portman in March.
Johnson, also nominated in March, takes over from Michael Leavitt, who now heads the Health and Human Services Department. He has worked at the EPA for about 25 years and is the first person with a science background to be nominated to lead the agency.