Energy & Environment

Manchin facing pushback over Interior nominee second hearing

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is getting pushback from a fellow Democratic senator for his decision to grant Republicans a second chance to ask tough questions to a key Interior Department nominee.

Laura Daniel-Davis, President Biden’s pick to be assistant Interior secretary for land and minerals management, is set for a second round of questioning from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which is chaired by Manchin, even though she already had a confirmation hearing in September and the committee has already voted on her nomination.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who previously chaired the panel, blasted the second hearing without naming Manchin in a statement to The Hill.

“Senator Wyden believes the first time Laura Daniel-Davis testified at length on her nomination before the Committee was sufficient,” a Wyden spokesperson said. “This second hearing is nothing more than an opportunity for Republicans to badger, bully and harass a well-qualified nominee for a job that needs to be filled.”

Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), the panel’s top Republican, asked Manchin for another nomination hearing, according to spokesman Mike Danylak.

Danylak said that Barrasso wanted a second hearing to investigate what he described as an “assault” on energy independence by the Biden administration. He also said that department officials haven’t answered “numerous” questions from the senator on issues related to her role.

“Since her last failed vote in Committee, Ms. Daniel-Davis appears to have continued the assault on Wyoming’s economy and our nation’s energy independence from her position at the Department,” the spokesman said.

The panel deadlocked in a vote on Davis’s nomination in November, with 10 Democrats, including Manchin, supporting her and the panel’s 10 Republicans opposed to her nomination.    

The tie vote still allows the nomination to be considered on the floor of the Senate, where Vice President Harris could break a tie if there is a 50-50 vote.

“Additionally, DOI officials, including her chain-of-command, have also not responded to numerous questions from Ranking Member Barrasso on issues relevant to Ms. Daniel-Davis’ position. He expects answers from Ms. Daniel-Davis at the hearing,” Danylak added, without specifying what the questions were.

Manchin has made no public statements about why the second hearing was scheduled. The hearing was added to the committee website’s schedule without further explanation.

Manchin’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment prior to publication. After publication, a committee aide confirmed that the second hearing was in response to a request from GOP committee members, and pointed to the precedent for such hearings.

While Wyden’s statement indicated displeasure with the second hearing, spokespeople for the committee’s other Democrats also did not respond to requests for comment.   

The Interior Department also declined to comment on the decision to have the second hearing.   

But the decision left other supporters of the nomination fuming.

Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities, said “it was a mistake” for Manchin to allow the second round.

“Nothing has changed, the vote will be exactly the same, everyone knows that, so this is just a chance for Barrasso to grandstand again with the same outcome,” he said. He added that it was “incumbent” on Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to schedule a full floor vote on the nomination.

While it’s uncommon for committees to ask nominees to come in for second hearings, it isn’t unprecedented.   

In 2014, when Wyden himself was in charge of the committee, it took a second look at then-President Obama’s nominee for another Interior role.  

Rhea Suh, whom Obama picked to be assistant Interior secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, faced a second round of questioning in 2014 after a request from then-ranking member Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Democrats held the majority at the time in the Senate.  

The scheduling of the hearing is also notable because Manchin has been at odds with fellow Democrats over the past year on a number of issues.    

He announced his opposition to the nearly $2 trillion Build Back Better legislation approved by the House in a December interview with “Fox News Sunday,” a surprise at the time that led to a furious White House response.    

The legislation had already been substantially changed in an effort to meet the demands of Manchin, but it now increasingly looks like it may never make it to the president’s desk.    

Just last month, Manchin thwarted any Democratic hopes of moving forward with voting rights legislation by saying he would not agree to an exception to the Senate’s filibuster rule to allow a vote on the measure. Fellow centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) also opposed making an exception to the filibuster.

Wyden, who now chairs the Senate Finance Committee, has been a key part of the Build Back Better talks and has been a vocal advocate for the clean energy tax credits that are a major part of the bill’s climate benefits. 

Manchin has also remained somewhat at odds with his party on environmental issues over his embrace of fossil fuels including natural gas and his own ties to the coal industry. His opposition led Democrats to drop a program from the Build Back Better measure that would have sought to incentivize the shift to clean electricity. 

At the same time, Manchin in recent weeks has said the remaining climate provisions in Build Back Better are areas he could support, particularly its clean energy tax credits.

Updated at 11:53 a.m.

Tags Barack Obama Chuck Schumer Joe Biden Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Barrasso Kyrsten Sinema Lisa Murkowski Ron Wyden

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