WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed hotly debated nominees to lead the U.S. Department of Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., voted for both new Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, who was approved on a 54-46 vote, and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who had a 59-40 vote.
U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., opposed both.
But Vitter did offer one of the 69 votes in favor of breaking the filibuster on McCarthy. He announced last week that he would stop blocking McCarthy after he said the EPA complied with a series of his transparency requests.
The EPA often is criticized by officials from Louisiana’s petrochemical, energy and manufacturing companies. McCarthy had headed the EPA’s air and radiation office.
The Perez nomination was arguably more controversial for Louisiana because Perez has headed the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights division.
In that role, Perez was at odds with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu over changes to the New Orleans Police Department through a federal consent decree. Mitch Landrieu had originally supported the plan. More recently, the mayor called the changes too costly and argued that internal changes are already working.
“I would not have picked Tom Perez, but the president is entitled to his Cabinet,” Mary Landrieu said Thursday after the vote, adding that her concerns did not rise to the level of seeing any “egregious disqualifications.”
“I’m not happy with some of the actions of the Justice Department and most certainly believe that the issues need to be worked out in New Orleans,” she said.
The U.S. Justice Department also recently wrangled with the state over not providing voter registration forms in government offices.
Most recently, Landrieu and Vitter both accused the Justice Department of overreaching by cutting $30,000 in federal funds to a Young Marines program affiliated with the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office for issues of the separation of church and state.
The Sheriff’s Office program requires each young member to agree to “Keep myself clean in mind by attending the church of my faith” and to pledge that “I shall never do anything that would bring disgrace or dishonor upon my God, my Country and its flag, my parents, myself or the Young Marines.”
Landrieu last week filed the Freedom to Pray Act to forbid the federal government from withholding money from programs whose participants engage in voluntary religious activity.
“I’m going to continue to work with the Justice to bring relief to this Young Marines program,” she said.
Landrieu also on Thursday inserted part of her prayer bill into the appropriations bill that funds the Justice Department.
Vitter, though, had stronger words against the new Labor secretary.
“Perez was involved in (Justice’s) decision to enforce one part of the National Voter Registration Act — the part that specifically benefits the politics of the president and his administration at the expense of identity security of each and every Louisianian on the voter rolls, as well as a recent decision to discriminate against religious groups in Louisiana,” Vitter said in a prepared statement.
Vitter also took to the Senate floor on Thursday to complain about the EPA and to state his opposition to McCarthy.
Vitter said the EPA has already moved toward “draconian” regulations against industry and is poised to do more in the name of fighting climate change.
“It’s a crisis mounting,” he said. “It’s right before us.”
He criticized President Barack Obama’s “all-of-the-above” energy production strategies.
“It has not been all of the above; it’s been war on coal,” Vitter said.
Landrieu also has cited concerns with the EPA, but she previously said that she had heard enough positive things about McCarthy from the private sector.
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