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Nomination watch

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Mar 14, 2023
Photo illustration of Joe Manchin looking over a stack of papers.

Photo illustration: AĂŻda Amer/Axios. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

đź‘€ Sen. Joe Manchin is once again causing headaches for the Biden administration by threatening to derail nominees.

Why it matters: The West Virginian’s independent streak could have tangible impacts for crucial roles at the Energy Department, Interior and other agencies.

Here are the spots we’re watching:

  • David Crane, nominated for DOE undersecretary for infrastructure, and Jeff Marootian, picked for DOE assistant secretary for ​​energy efficiency and renewable energy, will have to move through Manchin's Energy and Natural Resources Committee again. Both were reported out favorably in December.
  • President Biden will have to send Manchin a nominee for the fifth spot at FERC. Manchin clashed repeatedly with former FERC chair Richard Glick, stalling his renomination and eventually forcing him to leave the commission.

Context: Manchin on Friday formally withdrew support for Laura Daniel-Davis, who has been stuck in Senate limbo for two years awaiting confirmation to be Interior secretary for land and minerals management.

  • Manchin was enraged by an internal agency document that showed she had signed off on higher royalty rates for an oil and gas lease sale in Alaska.
  • He also voted against IRS pick Daniel Werfel on the floor last week, citing ongoing concerns about the Biden administration’s implementation of the IRA energy tax credits.

In an op-ed Friday, Manchin pledged to put Biden’s appointees through the wringer.

  • “Going forward, each and every proposed nominee I will review will be judged through one prism: Are they political partisans first or Americans first?” Manchin wrote.

The big picture: Manchin can’t sink most nominees alone, since Democrats expanded their majority in the midterms. Werfel was confirmed with some GOP support.

  • But he can certainly deny committee action to those under his purview as ENR chair and make things difficult for Biden.
  • Nominees who aren’t confirmed at the end of the year are returned to the president.
  • There are plenty of Biden picks pending who have been renominated and given back to the Senate.

Meanwhile, Biden has re-upped two top EPA picks with the EPW Committee.

  • That panel held a hearing on Joe Goffman, tapped to lead the Air and Radiation Office, earlier this month, and Democrats are hoping to move him soon.
  • Also on EPW's list is David Uhlmann, who was tapped to lead the agency’s enforcement efforts.
  • At DOT, Biden has yet to pick anyone to lead the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
  • Those spots aren’t in Manchin’s jurisdiction — but they’re likely on his radar, since they’re top players on the Biden administration’s regulatory agenda.

Yes, but: Some of these folks are already serving in the administration, and that might continue — whether or not they’re confirmed.

  • Daniel-Davis is the principal deputy assistant secretary for Land and Minerals Management at Interior, and she’s effectively doing the job she was nominated for.
  • Interior spokesperson Melissa Schwartz said Daniel-Davis “will continue to lead this portfolio at Interior."
  • Goffman is serving in a similar capacity at the EPA air office.

Our thought bubble: This all highlights problems with the executive branch nomination process — and the Senate quagmire that comes with it.

  • “It's mathematically impossible for the Senate to review and vote on 1,200 positions in a president's first year," said Valerie Smith Boyd, director of the Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition.
  • “We think it would be very important for government effectiveness to reduce the number of positions requiring Senate confirmation,” she said.
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