The 19-member committee voted 16-2 on Wednesday to advance the Republican governor's nomination — one senator, California's Barbara Boxer, didn't vote, saying Leavitt's answers were too vague for a decision — though prospects for consideration of the nomination by the full Senate are uncertain. The list of senators who said they would block a floor vote continued to grow.
Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut voted no, and Democrats continued to voice strong concerns about the Bush administration's environmental policies.
"We're not even treading water, we're going backwards," said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada.
The committee's vote was allowed "out of respect for Governor Leavitt," said Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt., speaking for himself and the Democrats who previously had boycotted a vote.
Jeffords has demanded more information from the Bush administration and EPA on its air pollution rules and other issues.
He said Tuesday that the administration's "continued stonewalling of our efforts to obtain legitimate information ... is unacceptable. I expect to see that information before the Senate votes on this nomination."
Jeffords preceded Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., as chairman of the committee. Jeffords typically sides with the Democrats on environmental issues.
Inhofe and the nine other Republican members on the committee angrily denounced the missing Democrats when they didn't show up at a meeting on Oct. 1, delaying the decision on the nomination. The GOP members voted symbolically to back Leavitt even though there not enough committee members present to make it official.
From the committee, Leavitt's nomination goes to the full Senate, where at least six Democrats said they plan to block it from coming to a vote until their demands for information are met.
Sens. Boxer and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., who is not a committee member, added their names Wednesday to those who said they would stand in the way. Others include: Clinton; Lieberman, who is vying for the Democratic presidential nomination; two other Senate Democrats running for president, John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina; and possibly another committee member, Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla.