Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) compared Trump administration nominee Kathleen Hartnett White to a horse before members of the Environment and Public Works Committee.
The committee voted to confirm White's nomination to lead the White House's Council on Environmental Quality, Wednesday. During a business meeting prior to the party-line vote, Whitehouse likened White to the ancient Roman emperor Caligula's horse.
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"There is a popular legend of the Emperor Caligula appointing his horse to the Roman Senate," Whitehouse said. "Had he done that, it would have raised important questions, but the real questions would not have been about the horse. The horse was just a horse. The real questions would have been about the power of the Emperor Caligula and the spine of the Roman Senate. Discussing the merits of the horse would be pointless."
"Approving this nominee for CEQ would be so preposterous that it would be like appointing Caligula's horse, in that the real question becomes about the power of our fossil fuel emperors and the spine of the Senate," he said. "This is a moment in which the Senate takes its own measure. I guess we're about to see the answer."
Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee Sen. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.) quickly condemned Whitehouse's remarks.
"Let me just say that comparing Ms. White to a horse, as one of our Democrat colleagues just did, to me is a new low," Barrasso said. "It's disturbing, it's demeaning, and it's dehumanizing."
White has a long history as an environmental regulator in Texas. Former Governor Rick Perry appointed her as the chairman and commissioner of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the largest state environmental regulatory agency in the nation, where she served for six years.
She also served under George W. Bush while he was governor of Texas, as an appointee to the Texas Water Development Board. Most recently, she was a senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation for energy and environment issues.
White's nomination will now go to the full Senate for approval.