Fight over Youngkin nominee intensifies as House GOP blocks 11 Northam appointees

‘They want to be the brick wall, let ’em be a brick wall’

By: and - February 11, 2022 3:16 pm
House Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, (right) huddles with other GOP leaders Friday amid a partisan standoff over Executive Branch appointments. (Photo by Graham Moomaw)

House Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, (right) huddles with other GOP leaders Friday amid a partisan standoff over Executive Branch appointments. (Photo by Graham Moomaw)

Virginia Democrats’ refusal to confirm Andrew Wheeler, a controversial environmental appointee of Gov. Glenn Youngkin, spiraled into a bigger standoff Friday in Virginia’s divided legislature.

As of early afternoon, more than 1,000 of former Gov. Ralph Northam’s outstanding appointments to state boards and executive agencies were in limbo after the Republican-led House of Delegates refused to take up a resolution confirming them. By Friday evening, Republicans had narrowed the list of Democratic appointees they wanted to block, voting down 11 state board members picked by Northam.

The appointees blocked by Republicans served on the State Air Pollution Control Board, the State Water Control Board, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, the Safety and Health Codes Board and the Board of Education. Most had just been appointed to four-year terms last fall. Youngkin can now make his own picks for those roles, but they will still be subject to General Assembly confirmation in the 2023 session.

The House GOP’s targeting of Northam’s picks for environmental boards was a response to the Democratic-led state Senate’s vote this week to block Wheeler from taking office as Virginia’s next secretary of natural and historic resources. Democrats have pointed to Wheeler’s record as the former head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Donald Trump to argue he’s unfit to serve in Virginia’s top environmental post. But Republicans appear adamant about using hardball tactics to push him through.

“They want to be the brick wall, let ’em be a brick wall,” House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, said of Senate Democrats shortly after the conflict broke out Friday. “But they don’t run the place.”

Earlier in the day, Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, who oversees appointment resolutions as chairman of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, called the escalation frustrating and out of step with General Assembly protocol.

He and other Democrats in the Senate said that if Republicans follow through, the Senate will block all future appointments put forward by Youngkin as long as it remains under Democratic control. It wasn’t immediately clear Friday night how Democrats would respond to the more targeted effort to block Northam appointees.

Ebbin accused Youngkin of throwing a temper tantrum. “He needs to learn that government is about compromise, and it’s not for the thin skinned and the petty,” he said. “This is not like he’s at a private equity firm where (he) can tell everybody what to do.”

House Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, declined to discuss the matter in detail but said he was hoping for a “controlled stand-down.”

“We’ve always had conflicts like this arise between the institutions,” Gilbert said.

Youngkin’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a statement Friday night, House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, accused Youngkin of setting a “dangerous new precedent.”

“He is slashing qualified public servants with no hearing and no discussion,” Filler-Corn said. “This is reckless, plain and simple, and Virginians are the ones losing.”

This breaking news post has been updated to reflect the latest developments.

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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville.

Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.