Despite Sen. David Vitter's opposition to President Barack Obama's every move, Obama's 2008 election has been a boon to the soiled senator. It allowed Vitter to reinvent himself after his credentials as a family-values crusader vanished in the face of his prostitution scandal and "very serious sin." Vitter's latest ploy is blocking Obama's nominations for Cabinet-level appointments, a bit of theater he pulled again Aug. 3 when he announced he would block Rebecca Wodder, who was chosen by Obama in early June to be Assistant Secretary in the Fish, Wildlife and Parks division of the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI).
Vitter's demand: that the DOI renew hundreds of offshore oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico. (DOI spokesman Adam Fetcher told Politico, "Senator Vitter's request is perplexing," adding the department "took action on this a month and a half ago.")
In February, Vitter blocked Daniel Ashe, Obama's pick to head the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, until the DOI granted its 15th deepwater exploration permit. Vitter lifted the block June 1, when the DOI issued permit No. 15. Still in place is Vitter's block on Scott Doney, whom Obama had chosen to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. And in May, Vitter got major press for blocking a $19,600 per year pay raise for Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, saying he would only remove the block when the DOI resumed pre-BP permitting rates.
Wodder's nomination battle may be the ugliest yet. A longtime environmentalist who worked at The Wilderness Society before becoming president and CEO of the conservation group American Rivers, Wodder is shaping up as a major conservative bogeywoman. In February, while still at American Rivers, she slammed H.R. 1, the yearly appropriations bill, which she called "the most anti-environmental piece of legislation in history." She added, "Protecting handouts to Big Oil is a priority, but protecting clean water and air for our children isn't? I think the House majority is out of step with America."
In an appearance last month before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Wodder was asked about everything from her criticism of the natural gas industry's practice of hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") to her mostly vegetarian diet (Wodder said she objected to factory farming).
Expect to hear more about Wodder when the furor over the debt-ceiling debate dies down. Last week, the conservative bellwether website Town Hall tagged her as a "radical enviro," while the Washington Examiner called her a "Big Green ideologue." Back in less politically charged times, the American Sportfishing Association named Wodder "Woman of the Year" in 1998, and last year Outdoor Life magazine named her to its list of Top 25 Conservationists. — Kevin Allman
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