Senate likely to move Monday to approve EPA nominee

The Senate is expected to agree Monday afternoon to break a number of Democratic holds on Utah Republican Gov. Michael Leavitt's nomination to become the new head of the EPA, GOP Senate aides said Monday.

The approval seems almost certain despite lingering concerns regarding Leavitt's involvement in a legal controversy surrounding the Salt Lake City Olympic Games, as well as Democratic senators' criticism of Bush administration environmental policies-criticism that Democrats linked to the Leavitt confirmation process.

Leavitt is expected to testify Tuesday in a court case over allegations that city officials involved in Salt Lake City's bid to host the 2002 winter games engaged in illegal activities such as bribery to entice the international Olympic committee to name the city as host. Although Leavitt is not directly implicated in the trial, there have been allegations in the past that his administration was involved in the affair.

A host of Democratic senators, including Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Frank Launtenberg of New Jersey-along with the trio of presidential hopefuls Sens. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, John Edwards of North Carolina and John Kerry of Massachusetts-have placed holds on Leavitt's nomination. But support for the holds appears weak at this point, and the Environment and Public Works Committee earlier this month backed the nomination on a bipartisan 16-2 vote.

Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., late last week filed a motion for a cloture vote on the nomination. At presstime, sources expected the cloture vote to pass with at least 70 votes in favor, a resounding defeat of the holds and an indication that a bipartisan majority of the body is in no mood for a protracted fight over the nomination, aides said.

One Republican source said that after a successful cloture vote, Inhofe and Frist will seek agreement by the Democrats to reduce the amount of time the Senate will allot for debating the nomination, from the 30 hours that will otherwise be permitted. It is unclear whether Democrats would agree to a significant reduction in time, given the number of holds and the fact that several key senators are not yet in Washington, including Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer-who was said to be stuck in an airport in California.