With Approval In Peril, Joe Manchin Delays Massachusetts Nominee Vote

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2022/03/09/with-approval-in-peril-joe-manchin-delays-massachusetts-nominee-vote/

By Chris Lisinski
State House News Service

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders wasn’t there, so Massachusetts state Representative Maria Robinson will need to wait a little longer to know if she is still in the running for a new job in the federal government.

Rather than risk defeat, a U.S. Senate panel on Tuesday, March 8 postponed its scheduled vote on Robinson’s nomination to be assistant secretary in the Office of Electricity, a move that delays movement toward another Beacon Hill departure and keeps her appointment alive in the face of Republican opposition.

Nine of the committee’s 10 Democrats were physically present at the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources meeting to consider a slate of President Joe Biden’s nominations, with Sanders — a Vermont independent who has twice sought the Democratic nomination for president — instead voting by proxy.

Under committee rules that ascribe more power to in-person votes, that left the chairman, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, one vote short of what he needed to muscle Robinson’s nomination through if the panel’s 10 Republicans lined up in unanimous opposition.

“The committee did not have enough members present to move the vote on Ms. Robinson’s nomination forward,” Manchin’s office said in a statement to State House News Service after the meeting adjourned. “The Committee will reschedule this vote when every Democratic Senator can be in attendance.”

Republican U.S. Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, who serves as the ranking minority member of the committee, said at the start of the meeting that he planned to oppose the Framingham Democrat because of her focus on renewable energy sources.

“In the Massachusetts House of Representatives, she consistently prioritized reducing greenhouse gas emissions over reliability and affordability,” Barrasso said. “She has openly celebrated abandoning America’s abundant coal, oil, and natural gas resources in favor of intermittent, unreliable, and unaffordable renewable energy. These traditional energy resources are the very backbone of our nation’s electrical system.”

Barrasso said Massachusetts has the fifth-highest electricity rates in the country, with prices about 72 percent higher than the national average.

Referring to Robinson’s February 8 hearing before the panel, Barrasso said the representative told senators she does not believe Bay Staters are paying too much for electricity.

“Representative Robinson is obviously out of touch with the financial hardships high energy prices place on American families,” Barrasso said. “She’s the wrong person to run the department of the Office of Electricity.”

Manchin’s office said it will bring Robinson’s nomination back up for a vote at a future date, though it was not clear Tuesday when that will take place.

Five nominations were on the panel’s agenda:  Joseph DeCarolis to be administrator of the Energy Information Administration, Sara Bronin to be chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Asmeret Asefaw Berhe as director of the Office of Science in the Department of Energy, Shalanda Baker as director of the Office of Minority Economic Impact in the Department of Energy, and Robinson.

Over the course of about 15 minutes, the committee voted to advance the four other nominations with favorable recommendations over some, but not unanimous, Republican opposition. Baker and DeCarolis cleared the committee on voice votes, and the 20-member committee voted 12-8 for Berhe and Bronin.

Two Republicans, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, joined Democrats to vote in favor of Berhe and Bronin advancing.

But when it came time to take a vote on Robinson’s nomination, the meeting took a turn.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have a sufficient quorum to vote on the agenda item number five, Maria Robinson, and since we’re not able to complete our business, unless anyone has any other further comments to be made, we’re going to recess,” Manchin said during the meeting.

livestream of the committee’s hearing showed Manchin pointing to another senator on the panel before responding, “I’m so sorry, the chair does not see a sufficient quorum.”

Attendees began laughing. With a smile on his face, Manchin said, “Math was not my strong point,” asked for final comments, then banged the gavel and said, “With that, we adjourn.”

At the start of Tuesday’s meeting, Manchin said the committee would need 11 members to take any votes. Fourteen senators cast votes in-person during the roll calls for Berhe and Bronin’s nominations immediately before Robinson’s name came up, and the other six voted by proxy.

Robinson’s nomination stumbled in part due to a rule assigning different degrees of power to in-person and remote votes in the committee. Dissenting votes cast by proxy will count in a closely contested roll call, but favorable votes cast by proxy will not.

That means that if the committee had opened a roll call on Robinson’s nomination Tuesday with only nine Democrats physically present and all 10 Republicans voted against her — even if multiple Republicans voted no by proxy — Robinson’s bid to join the federal government would have failed.

Sanders’s office did not immediately respond to an inquiry from State House News Service about whether he supports Robinson’s nomination and planned to cast a favorable vote in-person when the topic resurfaces.

Manchin said at the start of the meeting that he believes all five individuals on Tuesday’s agenda were “well-qualified by the training and experiences for the positions to which they have been nominated.” He urged members to vote in favor of the slate of nominees.

Fellow Democratic U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington praised Robinson, calling her “a very important nomination because we’ve become more dependent on electricity to heat our homes, to drive our cars, and connect to the internet.”

“I certainly want to see this nominee get into the office and to work very diligently with us on advancing the grid and its many improvements that we need for those issues of security and robustness,” Cantwell said.

Robinson could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate, Robinson worked on electricity and renewable energy issues at Navigant Consulting and Advanced Energy Economy before winning a race for an open Massachusetts House of Representatives seat in 2018.

Robinson, a member of the Massachusetts House’s progressive wing, is now in her second term. Massachusetts House Speaker Ronald Mariano has not elevated her to any leadership role:  she sits on four committees, but does not chair or vice chair any.

Her position on home heating energy also earned the ire of another Republican on the U.S. Senate committee, James Lankford of Oklahoma.

“Her preference is for home heating oil in New England rather than clean-burning natural gas, so while New England is doing wood-burning and burning home heating oil that they’re driving up in trucks to each home rather than doing actual new pipelines — I think that’s a mistake, not just for the environment but for the costs of actual energy for folks in New England,” Lankford said. “So I’m going to oppose her strongly.”

If the committee’s Democrats and Republicans split 10-10 on a rescheduled vote, Manchin would notify the Secretary of the Senate about the tie and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer could move to discharge Robinson’s nomination and put it on the chamber’s executive calendar.

Robinson would join a stream of mid-term departures from the Massachusetts House of Representatives if she wins confirmation to the federal post.

Four seats in the Massachusetts House remain vacant after state representatives Claire Cronin of Easton, Lori Ehrlich of Marblehead, Sheila Harrington of Groton, and Carolyn Dykema of Holliston resigned to take new jobs.

Another representative, Tom Golden of Lowell, may also be preparing to leave. Golden, a 14-term veteran, announced last week that he applied to become the next city manager in his hometown, with the current Lowell city manager, former state senator Eileen Donoghue, poised to depart in April.


New to NewBostonPost?  Conservative media is hard to find in Massachusetts.  But you’ve found it.  Now dip your toe in the water for two bucks — $2 for two months.  And join the real revolution.