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

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate rejects government-wide ban on abortion funding Centrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Bipartisan group of senators will urge Trump to reopen government for 3 weeks 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 TrumpDACA recipient claims Trump is holding ‘immigrant youth hostage’ amid quest for wall Lady Gaga blasts Pence as ‘worst representation of what it means to be Christian’ We have a long history of disrespecting Native Americans and denying their humanity 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-CortezOcasio-Cortez raises money for transgender youth on video game live stream Ocasio-Cortez responds to Aaron Sorkin directing young Dems to ‘stop acting like young people’ Ocasio-Cortez on Cardi B's feud with Tomi Lahren: Don't 'mess with Bronx women' MORE (D-N.Y.) and potential 2020 hopeful Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) want Senate Democratic leaders, namely Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerProtecting our judiciary must be a priority in the 116th Congress Baldwin's Trump plays 'Deal or No Deal' with shutdown on 'Saturday Night Live' Sunday shows preview: Shutdown negotiations continue after White House immigration proposal 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 SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersIdentity politics and the race for the Democratic nomination 2020 Democrats barnstorm the country for MLK weekend Bill Maher defends Bernie Sanders campaign over sexual harassment allegations 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 StabenowSenate Dems raise concerns about shutdown's impact on assistance to taxpayers Durbin signals he will run for reelection Coal supporter Manchin named top Dem on Senate Energy Committee 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 CantwellGOP seeks health care reboot after 2018 losses Climate movement should focus on winning 2020 presidential election Senate poised to kick land bill fight to January 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 NelsonFlorida lawmaker diagnosed with pancreatic cancer Rick Scott threw party at Florida governor’s mansion after DeSantis and family had moved in: report Restoration of voting rights by felons marks shift in Florida 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 WydenCongress should elevate those trapped in the gap – support ELEVATE Act IRS shutdown plan fails to quell worries IRS waiving penalty for some in first filing season under Trump's tax law 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 HeinrichSchumer wants answers from Trump on eminent domain at border Manafort developments trigger new ‘collusion’ debate Senators say questions remain on Trump strategy in Syria after briefing 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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerProtecting our judiciary must be a priority in the 116th Congress Baldwin's Trump plays 'Deal or No Deal' with shutdown on 'Saturday Night Live' Sunday shows preview: Shutdown negotiations continue after White House immigration proposal 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 ReidSenate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees Harry Reid knocks Ocasio-Cortez's tax proposal: Fast 'radical change' doesn't work Overnight Defense: Trump rejects Graham call to end shutdown | Coast Guard on track to miss Tuesday paychecks | Dems eye Trump, Russia probes | Trump talks with Erdogan after making threat to Turkey's economy 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.”