UPDATE: March 13, 2020: The Senate confirmed James Danly for a Republican seat on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Thursday, with a 52-40 vote.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., attempted to assuage the concerns of his Democratic colleagues Tuesday, pledging to refuse a vote next time there's a vacancy on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, unless the White House gives them a Democratic nominee.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 12-8 to confirm James Danly to FERC, giving the now-four person commission a 3-1 Republican majority. Commissioner Bernard McNamee announced in January he would not be seeking a second term on commission, meaning a new spot could be open as soon as June.
Manchin, who serves as ENR Ranking Member, voted in favor of the nomination, but said he would not do so if the situation arose again. "I made a commitment to Danly before because I thought he was well-qualified," he told Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who expressed his frustrations immediately after the vote. "But I will make this commitment to you. If we do not get a pairing when McNamee comes off … I'll make my statement known: If we don't get a pairing we're not voting."
Senators were vocal in their frustrations with the White House on Tuesday for not sending the Committee a Democratic nominee after the 2019 departure of Cheryl LaFleur, leaving the commission with a 3-1 Republican majority.
The commission has long been thought of as a nonpartisan body, and many members expressed their frustrations with what they see as an increasingly political regulatory agency.
"This is a sad day and I think that FERC is not working today," Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. said before the vote. "The FERC has become a political ping pong match like everything else around here … and if you look at some of the capacity rulings and other things coming out of the FERC today, it is reprehensible."
FERC has been under criticism from environmentalists and clean energy groups for its recent market rule proposals for the PJM Interconnection and New York Independent System Operator, as well as its proposed changes to the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act.
But the commission has also struggled to maintain quorum over the past year, following the death of Chair Kevin McIntyre and the departure of LaFleur.
Danly, who currently serves as general counsel for FERC, was nominated by the White House in October to fill out the term of McIntyre. LaFleur's position has not been filled yet, though clean energy lawyer Allison Clements has met with the White House as a potential candidate to fill that seat.
Manchin and ENR Chair Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, expressed frustration over the White House's unwillingness to push Clements through.
The White House was "very impressed with her. And still nothing's come out," said Manchin. "There should be a pairing."
The "challenge is we've had empty seats on the commission for far too long" said Murkowski. "I can't do anything if there's no nominee that comes forward … Any influence that any of you have on the White House to send that name forward" would be welcome, she told Senators.
But King said any influence the senators had was given up by the Senate's ultimate approval of the White House's nominee.
"The way to get the other nominee is to say 'no' to this one until we get the other nominee," he said. "If we're going to approve one without requiring the other there's no incentive on the White House to put anyone forward. We've given them what they wanted here."
McNamee's term officially ends June 30. He plans to stay through the end of the year or until another commissioner is appointed, whichever comes first.
Correction: Danly's appointment leaves FERC with a 3-1 majority. An earlier version of this post misstated the commission's makeup.