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Senate advances Trump energy pick after Manchin flips

The Senate voted Wednesday to advance President TrumpDonald John TrumpNearly 300 former national security officials sign Biden endorsement letter DC correspondent on the death of Michael Reinoehl: 'The folks I know in law enforcement are extremely angry about it' Late night hosts targeted Trump over Biden 97 percent of the time in September: study MORE’s nominee to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) despite Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinPush to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw Harris walks fine line on Barrett as election nears Tom Cotton: 'No doubt' coronavirus won't stop confirmation of SCOTUS nominee MORE’s (D-W.Va.) surprise vote against him.

Lawmakers voted 50-49 to limit debate on Bernard McNamee’s nomination to be a FERC commissioner. All Republicans voted “yes,” and all Democrats voted “no,” while Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisSenate Republicans offer constitutional amendment to block Supreme Court packing Push to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw Democrats see cash floodgates open ahead of Election Day MORE (R-N.C.) wasn’t present.

The Senate plans to vote Thursday on McNamee's final confirmation to the five-person body.

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McNamee has faced strong opposition from Democrats, environmentalists and others. He formerly worked at the Energy Department under Trump, helping to advance controversial policies including the administration’s attempts to bail out the coal and nuclear power industries — a version of which FERC unanimously rejected earlier this year.

Manchin voted for McNamee in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee last week, the only Democrat to do so.

But he flipped Wednesday, voting “no” on the procedural vote. He explained in a statement that only after the committee vote did he see a video of McNamee speaking at a Texas Public Policy Foundation event in February in which he harshly criticized renewable energy, cheered fossil fuels and threw doubt on climate change science.

McNamee worked for a Texas conservative think tank at the time.

“After viewing video footage, which I had not previously seen, where Bernard McNamee outright denies the impact that humans are having on our climate, I can no longer support his nomination to be a FERC commissioner,” he said in the statement. “Climate change is real, humans have made a significant impact, and we have the responsibility and capability to address it urgently.”

Manchin is currently seeking to become the top Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee after Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellHillicon Valley: Senate panel votes to subpoena Big Tech executives | Amazon says over 19,000 workers tested positive for COVID-19 | Democrats demand DHS release report warning of election interference Senate panel votes to subpoena Big Tech executives Hillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns MORE’s (D-Wash.) expected move to lead the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

McNamee's admiration for coal and for Trump administration policy alarms environmentalists.

The video in question had been removed from the internet by the think tank. But a group opposing his nomination saved it, and Utility Dive published it in November, before the committee vote.

Manchin, who narrowly won reelection last month in coal-heavy West Virginia, told McNamee at his confirmation hearing last month that he viewed the nominee’s support for coal positively.

“I'm probably one of the only ones on my side who appreciates where you're coming from,” he said.

FERC commissioners are expected to be independent and neutral on issues such as energy fuel sources in the matters they oversee, including interstate natural gas pipelines and bulk electricity markets. And McNamee told senators he would respect that.

“If confirmed, I commit that I will be a fair, objective and impartial arbiter in the cases and issues that would confront me as a commissioner. My decisions will be based on the law and the facts, not politics,” he said.

Republicans took McNamee at his word.

“I believe that Mr. McNamee understands, and understands well, that FERC is an independent agency, and it must continue to function as such,” Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate GOP eyes Oct. 26 for confirming Barrett to Supreme Court This week: Clock ticks on chance for coronavirus deal Climate change — Trump's golden opportunity MORE (R-Alaska), the Energy Committee’s chairwoman, said on the Senate floor. “And I take his commitment to uphold FERC’s autonomy and maintain an independent role as a commissioner at face value.”

Democrats said McNamee has demonstrated his inability to be neutral.

“I would like to have taken Mr. McNamee at his word when he came before the Senate Energy Committee to say that he would be ‘a fair and objective and impartial arbiter,’ ” Cantwell said.

But his remarks in the video, and his overall record, “reveal a very strong bias in favor of fossil fuels against renewable energy,” she said.