Senate seen likely to confirm nominees along party lines

Source: Katherine Ling, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, July 11, 2014

President Obama’s nominee for chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission appears to have enough support to win Senate confirmation next week in a floor vote that’s likely to break along party lines.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filed cloture this week to vote Tuesday on the nominations of Obama’s pick for chairman, Norman Bay, to serve on the commission until 2018, and of Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur to another five-year term (E&E Daily, July 10).

If Bay is confirmed, it will likely be because of a rule change by Senate Democrats last year that allows for confirmation by a simple majority. Bay’s nomination to lead FERC initially provoked opposition from Republicans and some Democrats who were concerned about his decisions as head of FERC’s Office of Enforcement and his lack of policy experience.

But Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) worked out a deal with the White House that would let LaFleur, the acting FERC chairwoman, keep the gavel as permanent chairwoman until next May.

While the deal remains unsatisfactory to many, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), it appears to have won at least 51 votes needed to confirm Bay.

Landrieu’s committee voted 12-9 last month to back Bay, with all Democrats and only Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada voting for him. The committee approved LaFleur’s nomination with 21 votes.

Manchin told E&E Daily he plans to vote for Bay “if the deal is going to be honored.”

And Landrieu said she hopes for a “strong” bipartisan vote next week, citing “strong support” for Bay expressed by former Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R).

When asked for any other Senate Republican supporters beyond Heller, Landrieu referred the question to Senate Democratic leadership. Reid’s office did not return a request for comment.

Landrieu also noted that the compromise with the White House only provides that LaFleur will be chairwoman until next spring and nothing after that.

“He can put [Bay] as chair; that is up to the discretion of the president. Or he could do something else,” she said. “But it is absolutely our understanding that Cheryl will stay as full chair for nine months past her date of confirmation.”