Sen. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) has won the top Democratic spot on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee amid fierce opposition from activists and some potential 2020 presidential contenders who have voiced criticism of his record on environmental issues.
The move was ratified Tuesday by members of the Senate Democratic caucus, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced.
In a statement, Manchin said he was “excited for the opportunity to continue to serve West Virginians in this new role.”
“The problems facing our country are serious, and I am committed to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find common-sense solutions for long-term comprehensive energy policy that incorporates an all-of-the-above strategy and ensures our state and our nation are leaders in the energy future,” he said.
Intraparty battles over congressional committee assignments are usually closed-door affairs that attract little attention beyond Washington. But as the 2020 presidential field begins to take shape, Manchin’s prospective appointment had prompted opposition from figures including Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and billionaire activist Tom Steyer, two Democrats who are openly considering White House bids.
“Democrats must offer a bold, positive path forward — but Senator Manchin does not offer that vision,” Steyer, a longtime proponent of efforts to combat climate change, said in a statement last week.
Manchin, who last month won reelection in coal-reliant West Virginia, has embraced some of Trump’s environmental initiatives. In 2010, he drew national attention with a campaign ad in which he literally shot the “cap-and-trade” climate bill.
As opposition to his elevation on the energy panel mounted, Manchin recently offered something of an olive branch to activists by voting against the confirmation of Trump appointee Bernard McNamee to serve on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Manchin, who had originally supported the Energy Department official’s nomination, said in a statement that McNamee, who was part of a team that drafted a plan to rescue the coal industry, did not have a strong enough record on climate change.
Some on the left had called for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to block Manchin by claiming the top Democratic spot on the panel. But Sanders, a potential 2020 contender himself, is remaining in his spot as the top Democrat on the Budget Committee, according to the list of committee assignments released by Schumer on Tuesday.