RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin seems ready to move on to finding a new nominee after clashing with Senate Democrats over the appointment of former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Andrew Wheeler to his Cabinet, a senior state senator said Thursday.
Sen. Emmett Hanger told The Associated Press that he discussed the matter with Youngkin over dinner Wednesday night and he doesn’t think the governor sees a path forward to securing Wheeler’s confirmation as secretary of natural and historic resources.
“What he indicated is … we’ll be looking at — probably at a future time — with a replacement. He didn’t indicate any sense of urgency there,” said Hanger, a moderate Republican who has represented a Shenandoah Valley-area Senate seat since 1996.
Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter said in a statement that the governor remains hopeful the Senate will reconsider its party-line vote earlier this week to reject Wheeler’s nomination.
“In the meantime, Secretary Wheeler will continue to serve Virginians as the Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources,” she said.
A former coal lobbyist and U.S. Senate staffer, Wheeler ran the EPA in the latter part of former President Donald Trump’s administration, overseeing rollbacks of environmental protections implemented under former President Barack Obama’s time in office, including restrictions on coal-fired power plants.
His selection for the Cabinet post provoked a backlash from Democrats, environmental groups and many career EPA employees, who in a letter characterized Wheeler’s leadership as “extremist” in its deference to corporate polluters.
Some of Wheeler’s former colleagues have come to his defense, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have acknowledged his knowledgeability.
Hanger said the governor expressed his disappointment in the Senate vote during their dinner.
“He’s a very positive person,” Hanger said of Youngkin. “And he thought, you know, if he talked to a few people, they would understand, hey, this is a great fella, he could do the job. And that didn’t happen. So I think he’s ready to move on, in my personal opinion and the conversation we had.”
Hanger said the governor did not name a particular replacement candidate.
Wheeler can continue in the role while the session is ongoing. Even if Youngkin were to submit a new nominee for the position, Wheeler could continue to serve in the administration in other capacities that don’t require a General Assembly sign-off.
Youngkin’s press team advised on his public calendar that he was having dinner Wednesday night with Hanger at the Executive Mansion. Hanger said they also discussed the governor’s tax agenda.
Youngkin campaigned on a broad slate of tax cuts, arguing that the state’s record revenues are due to overtaxation that should be returned to Virginians. But some of the legislation he’s seeking, such as the elimination of the grocery tax, has encountered bipartisan concern from lawmakers, Hanger included.
Whether an agreement can be reached on that proposal this year “remains to be seen,” said Hanger, a member of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee.