RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Democrats used their slim majority in the state Senate to block Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s nomination of Andrew Wheeler as Virginia’s secretary of natural resources.
Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist who served as the Environmental Protection Agency’s chief under President Donald Trump, is the only Cabinet pick from Youngkin that Democrats have fought against. Republicans claimed disapproval over Wheeler’s appointment was due in part to his time at the EPA under Trump.
The Virginia Senate’s Privileges and Elections Committee removed Wheeler from a resolution confirming Youngkin’s appointments and the full state Senate rejected a Republican push to reverse the decision in a party-line vote.
The Virginia Senate, where Democrats hold a 21-19 majority, will have a final vote on Youngkin’s appointments on Wednesday.
“His record on clean air and clean water is frankly astonishing. I get the politics. I understand that some of these environmental groups out there don’t like him because of who he worked for. And that’s just a real shame,” state Sen. Richard H. Stuart (R-King George) said before the vote Tuesday.
Senate Democrats acknowledged their respect for Wheeler’s qualifications and lauded how he handled himself when facing tough questions about his background during committee hearings.
State Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City) presided over the Virginia Senate’s Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee hearing where Wheeler was grilled over his decisions as head of the EPA. On Tuesday, Petersen said that Wheeler “was the smartest guy in the room” but “sometimes that’s not enough.”
Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter said Wheeler’s qualifications for the role are clear, adding that the governor was “disappointed” with the vote.
“Pursuant to the Constitution, he will continue to serve as Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources until the General Assembly adjourns. In the meantime, we hope the Senate will reconsider,” Porter said in a statement.
While the state Senate doesn’t appear likely to support Wheeler for the post, his nomination could be revived during the legislative session. The 2022 General Assembly session is slated to end on March 12.
The last time a governor’s Cabinet nominee was rejected was in 2006 when House Republicans kept then-Gov. Tim Kaine’s nominee for secretary of the commonwealth, Daniel G. LeBlanc, from taking the post.
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