Virginia Senate Democrats defeated an effort to revive confirmation of former Trump EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler as Governor Glenn Youngkin’s secretary of natural and historic resources. In committee last week, Democrats voted to remove Wheeler from SJ 84, the bill to confirm Youngkin’s cabinet selections. On Tuesday, Republicans opposed a vote to confirm the committee amendment.

State Senator Richard Stuart (R-King George) said that Wheeler had been impressive in committee interviews, and had a record of helping Virginia.

“But 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, because we have an opportunity here to confirm somebody who has the real credentials, and I’ve not heard one member in this body object to his credentials or his qualifications,” he said.

It is rare for the General Assembly to block cabinet nominees.

“You know, there have been people that I have supported in the 14 years that I’ve been here that I didn’t really think may have been the best candidate but I respected that governor who picked them, and I respect this governor who picked Andrew Wheeler,” Stuart said.

Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee Chair Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City) said that governors do have a right to presume confirmation of Cabinet selections.

He continued, “But at the end of the day, it’s a presumption, and when we’re dealing with a candidate that was part of an administration – and he can say, ‘Well it wasn’t my act,’ but it defunded the Chesapeake Bay, it dismantled the Clean Power Plan, dismantled it. It basically removed the rules that were dealing with coal ash particulate, and effectively silenced scientists. And I know Mr. Wheeler can say, ‘Well I did the best within my limited sphere.’ And I understand that. But sometimes you’ve got to do a bit better than that.”

After State Senator Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) seemed friendly towards Wheeler, there was speculation that Morrissey would vote with Republicans to rescue Wheeler’s confirmation. But Morrissey touts his environmental bona fides, and on Tuesday, no Democrats defected to support adding Wheeler back to SJ 84. The Senate is expected to confirm Youngkin’s cabinet nominees sans Wheeler in a Wednesday vote.

Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter said in a statement, “It’s clear Mr. Wheeler is extraordinarily qualified to be Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources and admirably served for decades in the highest levels of government. The governor is disappointed in today’s vote because he was looking forward to Mr. Wheeler accomplishing great things on behalf of Virginians. 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.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Andrew Wheeler” by United States Environmental Protection Agency. Photo “Glenn Youngkin” by Glenn Youngkin. Background Photo “Virginia State Capitol” by Martin Kraft. CC BY-SA 3.0.