Manchin’s likely senior role on key energy panel rankles progressives

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump signs major conservation bill into law | Senate votes to confirm Energy's No. 2 official | Trump Jr. expresses opposition to Pebble Mine project Trump signs major conservation bill into law Overnight Defense: Embattled Pentagon policy nominee withdraws, gets appointment to deputy policy job | Marines, sailor killed in California training accident identified | Governors call for extension of funding for Guard's coronavirus response MORE (D-W. Va.) is likely going to be the top-ranking Democrat on a powerful energy committee in the next Congress — and that is not sitting well with various voices on the left.

The West Virginia centrist narrowly won his midterm election by championing the coal industry and emphasizing his relationship with President TrumpDonald John TrumpMark Kelly clinches Democratic Senate nod in Arizona Trump camp considering White House South Lawn for convention speech: reports Longtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary MORE. He is favored to be the ranking member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which oversees the Department of Energy and Interior Department.

But progressive politicians including Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezLongtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary Trump campaign rolls out TV spots in early voting states after advertising pause Trump adviser Jason Miller: Biden running mate pick 'his political living will' MORE (D-N.Y.) and potential 2020 hopeful Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) want Senate Democratic leaders, namely Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSchiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package Meadows: 'I'm not optimistic there will be a solution in the very near term' on coronavirus package Biden calls on Trump, Congress to enact an emergency housing program MORE (N.Y.), to override the rules to circumvent Manchin.

“At this moment it is simply intolerable and unacceptable for the U.S. Senate to have a senator who is unalterably opposed to the cap-and-trade system and other measures that we worked so hard to advance as climate policy against climate denial,” Inslee told The Hill.

Inslee, who backed his state’s ballot initiative that would have instituted the nation’s first carbon tax, called on the Senate to find a way to intervene, regardless of Senate protocol. He launched a petition drive Wednesday asking Democratic leaders to stop Manchin.

“The fundamental thing I’m saying is the fate of the planet right now has got to trump any seniority system of the U.S. Senate,” he said.

Ocasio-Cortez, who hails from Schumer’s home state, has introduced her own “Green New Deal” plan to transition the country to run solely on renewable energy sources for electricity.

Asked about Manchin’s possible position on the panel, Ocasio-Cortez on Friday responded, “I have concerns because I don’t think we should be financed by the industries that we are supposed to be legislating and regulating.”

While the Energy Committee doesn’t have a direct say on issues like climate change, it plays important roles in areas like federal land and energy policy. The ranking member is expected to try to stop objectionable nominees, attempts to waive environmental laws for logging or oil drilling and perform other tasks.

“The ranking member is a backstop to extreme measures,” said a former committee aide. “Some of the concern would be, if no one is pushing back, then it’s like there’s no minority power.”

Manchin frequently sides with the GOP on the energy panel. He has backed the Trump administration, for example, in its ongoing attempts to aid the coal and nuclear power industries, despite nearly unified Democratic opposition.

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In a committee vote last month, he supported Bernard McNamee, Trump’s nominee to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, who worked at the Energy Department in support of the coal efforts. But he flipped on Wednesday and voted against limiting debate on McNamee in the full Senate.

With Senate committee leadership established by seniority, Manchin could only feasibly be denied the position in two ways: another senior senator vies for the job or Schumer disregards the rules and appoints someone else.

But the four Democrats who would be eligible to fill the position aren’t interested. The list includes Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersLongtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary Hillicon Valley: NSA warns of new security threats | Teen accused of Twitter hack pleads not guilty | Experts warn of mail-in voting misinformation Schiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package MORE (I-Vt.), a possible 2020 presidential candidate who supports climate change legislation, and who said he wants to remain ranking member of the Budget Committee.

“I’m with Budget,” he told The Hill. The Budget Committee oversees the Congressional Budget Office, sets high-level numbers for government spending and works to ensure that the Senate doesn’t violate budgetary rules.

Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowACLU calls on Congress to approve COVID-19 testing for immigrants Senators press IRS chief on stimulus check pitfalls Democrats warn Biden against releasing SCOTUS list MORE (D-Mich.) confirmed Wednesday that she is committed to heading the minority on the Senate Agriculture Committee and offered support for Manchin heading Energy.

“I think that Joe understands the difference between representing your state as a member and the responsibility to the caucus as a ranking member, and so I think he has a larger responsibility in that role,” Stabenow said Wednesday.

“I think at this point if he is next up in seniority than I think that’s the way the process works.”

Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Mike Roman says 3M on track to deliver 2 billion respirators globally and 1 billion in US by end of year; US, Pfizer agree to 100M doses of COVID-19 vaccine that will be free to Americans Overnight Energy: Supreme Court reinstates fast-track pipeline permit except for Keystone XL | Judge declines to reverse Dakota Access Pipeline shutdown OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Watchdog accuses Commerce of holding up 'Sharpiegate' report | Climate change erases millennia of cooling: study | Senate nixes proposal limiting Energy Department's control on nuclear agency budget MORE (D-Wash.), the current ranking member, is seen as likely to take the top spot on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. That position is open because Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William Nelson Trump, facing trouble in Florida, goes all in NASA names DC headquarters after agency's first Black female engineer Mary W. Jackson NASA, SpaceX and the private-public partnership that caused the flight of the Crew Dragon MORE (D-Fla.) lost his reelection bid last month. Cantwell is the next most senior senator available for the spot. She has avoided saying publicly whether she’ll take it, and didn’t answer a question about it Wednesday.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenTensions flare as GOP's Biden probe ramps up  Frustration builds as negotiators struggle to reach COVID-19 deal On The Money: Unemployment benefits to expire as coronavirus talks deadlock | Meadows, Pelosi trade criticism on stalled stimulus talks | Coronavirus recession hits Social Security, Medicare, highway funding MORE (D-Ore.) also has more seniority than Manchin. But the Finance Committee, where he is currently the top Democrat, is one of the most prestigious in the Senate, and he’s given no indication that he would give up the position.

Manchin is committed to taking over the job. He told reporters Wednesday that since Senate Democrats have historically handed out ranking memberships based on seniority, he deserves the post.

“I think you all have been around here long enough to understand the system, don’t you? Seniority is what it is. So we’ll see what happens,” Manchin said.

With other possibilities appearing exhausted, critics of Manchin said the best way to stop him is for Schumer to sidestep Manchin’s appointment for a nonsenior candidate. Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichOVERNIGHT ENERGY: 20 states sue over Trump rule limiting states from blocking pipeline projects | House Democrats add 'forever chemicals' provisions to defense bill after spiking big amendment | Lawmakers seek extension for tribes to spend stimulus money Lawmakers seek extension for tribes to spend stimulus money following Treasury delays The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Rodney Davis says most important thing White House can do on COVID-19 is give consistent messaging; US new cases surpass 50k for first time MORE (D-N.M.) would be the next in line.

“The first thing is, Joe Manchin is categorically unacceptable as ranking member and the second thing is that Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerSchiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package Meadows: 'I'm not optimistic there will be a solution in the very near term' on coronavirus package Biden calls on Trump, Congress to enact an emergency housing program MORE can fix this,” said Lukas Ross, senior policy analyst at Friends of the Earth.

“This is truly a question of moral courage and leadership — it is within his power to waive the seniority rules.”

But doing so would be extremely rare, and could be politically risky — especially considering rumblings that Manchin in the past has considered flipping parties. Senate Democrats take seniority seriously, and could see exceptions as a threat.

Schumer’s staff would not comment on the record.

“I can’t think of instances where it happened. I can think of instances where people agitated for it to happen,” said a former Democratic leadership aide.

“Everybody just feels like it won’t be done,” said another former staffer.

Furthermore, Manchin serves on Schumer’s leadership team and the two senators enjoy a close working relationship.

“There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that Schumer would push him off for somebody more junior,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist who worked for former Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidKamala Harris to young Black women at conference: 'I want you to be ambitious' Obama calls filibuster 'Jim Crow relic,' backs new Voting Rights Act bill McConnell warns Democrats not to change filibuster rule MORE (D-Nev.).

Manley added that Schumer and Manchin have a strong alliance, due largely to Schumer’s long-standing refusal to criticize Manchin’s more conservative positions.

“I can assure you they have a great relationship,” he said.

That relationship could work to Schumer’s advantage.

“If Manchin does ascend to the ranking membership, he has to be attentive to what the Democratic leader’s priorities and concerns are, and I would hope that that is actually the case,” the former aide said.

“Not that there won’t be tensions and issues that give the Republicans an opportunity to put the Democrats on the committee in a difficult position, but hopefully with communication and some leadership, they’ll figure out how to navigate those situations.”