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Senate Democrats could block Wheeler nomination later this week

Controversial cabinet pick Andrew Wheeler testifies before the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.
Michael Pope
Last week, controversial cabinet pick Andrew Wheeler testified before the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.

Members of the General Assembly rarely reject a nominee for the governor’s Cabinet. But, lawmakers may be poised to say no to a controversial pick.

The nomination of Andrew Wheeler to be Virginia's environmental secretary is hanging by a thread, and Senate Democrats may end up rejecting it as early as Friday. During a procedural vote on the nomination, Senator Creigh Deeds of Bath County laid the groundwork for rejecting the nomination of the person who ran Donald Trump's EPA.

"We received a letter from 150 former EPA employees who suggested that Mr. Wheeler had undermined the work of the EPA and worked against the environmental interests of this country," Deeds says.

Senator Bryce Reeves is a Republican from Spotsylvania County who says Wheeler is qualified for the job.

"He gave $225 million in funding for water reuse projects to protect the Bay, provided $200 million for wastewater infrastructure for runoff of sewage from reaching the Bay, provided funding to Pennsylvania agencies to address agricultural runoff," explains Reeves.

The last time a Cabinet nominee was rejected by the General Assembly was way back in 2006, when Governor Tim Kaine wanted to appoint a labor leader as Secretary of the Commonwealth. That appointment was rejected by a Republican-led House. At the time, Kaine called it McCarthy-style politics. Now, Democrats say Republicans have created a precedent.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.