Senate Democrats’ vote leaves Wheeler’s appointment to Youngkin’s Cabinet in limbo

Source: By Laura Vozzella, Washington Post • Posted: Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Andrew Wheeler, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s pick for secretary of natural resources, observes as Youngkin signs executive orders on his first day in office last month. (Al Drago/Bloomberg)

RICHMOND — Democrats who control the state Senate on Tuesday thwarted a Republican effort to revive Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s bid to put former Trump administration official Andrew Wheeler in his Cabinet, leaving the new governor’s embattled appointee in limbo.

The party-line vote is not likely to end Youngkin’s efforts to install Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist who led a rollback of Obama-era environmental regulations as Environmental Protection Agency chief under President Donald Trump.

Wheeler’s appointment as secretary of natural and historic resources will remain viable until the General Assembly session adjourns March 12. Like all 16 of Youngkin’s nominees, he has been on the job since the governor took office on Jan. 15.

The legislature rarely rejects a governor’s Cabinet nominee, but last week Democrats who control the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee struck Wheeler’s name from a resolution listing 16 gubernatorial Cabinet picks, approving the remaining 15 without discussion.

On the Senate floor Tuesday, Republicans sought to amend the resolution to add Wheeler’s name. Democrats, who control the chamber 21 to 19, rejected the amendment. The Senate will take a final vote on the resolution Wednesday, then send it on to the Republican-led House.

With the House’s help, Youngkin has a few options for reviving Wheeler’s appointment. Republican leaders in the lower chamber have already tried, without success, to pressure Senate Democrats by holding up the appointment of a State Corporation Committee judge and the election of two state Supreme Court justices.

The House could add Wheeler’s name to the measure — a move that could throw the legislation into a conference committee. Wheeler’s name could also come forward again on an entirely new resolution.

The General Assembly hasn’t defeated a Cabinet appointee since 2006, when Republicans in the House of Delegates rejected former AFL-CIO chief Daniel G. LeBlanc for secretary of the commonwealth under then-governor Tim Kaine (D).