What Mitch McConnell lacks in charisma, he more than makes up for with steely discipline. With little fanfare, he pushed through a change in Senate rules last week to reduce the time for debate on certain judicial nominees and executive branch appointees from 30 hours to just 2 hours.
The poster child for why McConnell orchestrated the rules change is Patrick Wyrick, 38, a District Court nominee from Oklahoma who was on one of the lists President Trump circulated to conservatives of potential Supreme Court nominees, and who is Scott Pruitt’s protégé. Wyrick was confirmed under the new rules Tuesday on a party-line vote, 53 to 47.
Remember Scott Pruitt? He was Trump’s EPA administrator, one of the swampiest denizens. He was forced to resign amidst allegations of conflicts of interest with the oil and gas industry in his home state of Oklahoma, where he was attorney general before Trump tapped him for the EPA.
Wyrick was Pruitt’s number two, serving as solicitor general and doing most of the heavy lifting in oral arguments in court as the attorney general worked to undermine environmental protections in the state and challenge the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.
He has only been on the Oklahoma Supreme Court for two years, and now he’s on his way to a lifetime federal appointment. No wonder McConnell didn’t want anybody talking about Wyrick for 30 hours. The New York Times brought to light in 2014 emails between Pruitt and Devon Energy Corporation as it pressed for relief from an EPA rule on methane emissions, with Wyrick acting as the go-between. The Times story—Energy Firms in Secretive Alliance With Attorneys General—was not focused on Wyrick, but his name showed up in at least 11 email chains.
In one exchange, Wyrick changed just 37 words in a 1,016-word letter drafted by Devon’s chief lobbyist, stamped it with the seal of Oklahoma, and sent it to the EPA. Questioned about the emails in a Senate hearing last May, Wyrick shrugged off any appearance of coziness between the AG’s office and the energy company. He said he was just passing the information along.
Republicans are now putting nominees forward in groups of four, which restricts senators in their ability to probe any one nominee. Wyrick was part of such a panel, which meant that each senator had just five minutes for questioning. The GOP chairman of the Senate judiciary committee gave Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse a few extra minutes to probe how Wyrick got on the Oklahoma state supreme court despite a flap over whether he resided in the Western sector of the state he is supposed to represent. The controversy hinged on an interpretation of “resided” versus “lived.”
But those five minutes barely scratched the surface of the questions about Wyrick. Documents provided by the environmental group, Earthjustice, show that he failed to disclose to the committee that he is a registered agent for his wife’s health-care industry company, and that he failed to recuse himself from the state’s challenges to the Affordable Care Act.