Political Loose Ends Greet Landrieu on Energy Committee

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Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) speaks to reporters at a joint session of Congress for President Obama address on February 24, 2009.
National Journal
Ben Geman
Feb. 13, 2014, 10:10 a.m.

Mary Landrieu’s snowy first day lead­ing the Sen­ate En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee was polit­ic­ally and pro­ced­ur­ally un­tidy.

The Louisi­ana Demo­crat on Thursday opened a ses­sion that was sup­posed to in­clude a vote on Rhea Suh, the nom­in­ee for a seni­or In­teri­or De­part­ment role whose se­lec­tion is sud­denly play­ing a role in Landrieu’s 2014 reelec­tion cam­paign.

Suh has drawn cri­ti­cism from Re­pub­lic­ans who cast her as an en­emy of fossil-fuel pro­duc­tion on fed­er­al lands — and these Re­pub­lic­ans in­clude Rep. Bill Cas­sidy, who is chal­len­ging Landrieu in what’s shap­ing up as a tight con­test.

GOP polit­ic­al op­er­at­ives have pounced on Landrieu’s sup­port for Suh, while Landrieu has re­turned fire at Louisi­ana’s House Re­pub­lic­ans, in­clud­ing Cas­sidy, who this week called on her to op­pose the nom­in­a­tion.

Look for the polit­ic­ally charged nom­in­a­tion battle to drag on longer. There was no com­mit­tee vote Thursday, as only four sen­at­ors showed up for the meet­ing.

The snowstorm that sent sen­at­ors scram­bling for flights home Wed­nes­day de­prived the com­mit­tee of a quor­um, ex­tend­ing the battle over Suh’s nom­in­a­tion to be­come In­teri­or’s as­sist­ant sec­ret­ary for fish and wild­life and parks.

Landrieu plans to sup­port Suh, who is In­teri­or’s as­sist­ant sec­ret­ary for policy, man­age­ment, and budget.

But Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Re­pub­lic­an who is the En­ergy Com­mit­tee’s rank­ing mem­ber, op­poses the nom­in­a­tion.

“I am not sure what she has achieved or what she has learned in her cur­rent ca­pa­city that would mer­it a new and high­er-rank­ing po­s­i­tion,” Murkowski said Thursday.

She told re­port­ers later that she’ll keep bat­tling. “If she does make it through markup, I’ve got some pro­ced­ur­al ways to slow things down,” Murkowski said.

But she con­ceded that Demo­crats’ Sen­ate rule change last year to pre­vent fili­busters on nom­in­ees has stripped her of some op­tions.

Murkowski said she doesn’t un­der­stand why the abor­ted markup was held at all, giv­en that it was clear that few sen­at­ors would at­tend, and giv­en that oth­er, less con­tro­ver­sial nom­in­ees have already cleared the com­mit­tee and are await­ing floor votes.

But she be­lieves the de­cision came from above the com­mit­tee’s Demo­crat­ic lead­er­ship level, in­clud­ing the White House and Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id.

“The re­la­tion­ship that I have with Sen­at­or Landrieu and Sen­at­or Wyden is not im­pacted at all by this Rhea Suh stuff,” Murkowski said in an in­ter­view Thursday, ref­er­en­cing Ron Wyden of Ore­gon, who is tak­ing his gavel from the En­ergy pan­el to the Sen­ate Fin­ance Com­mit­tee in the wake of former Sen. Max Baucus’s move to China, where he will be U.S. am­bas­sad­or. “But I think it is very un­for­tu­nate that the ad­min­is­tra­tion and Sen­at­or Re­id have put the two of them in a place where I think it is fair [to say] they clearly didn’t want to be.” 

Landrieu, as the pan­el’s newly min­ted chair­wo­man, opened the markup but de­ferred to Wyden to preside. But, giv­en the snowstorm and lack of a quor­um, she’ll have to re­turn later to the nom­in­a­tion that’s now elec­tion-sea­son polit­ic­al fod­der.

It was an un­usu­al first day atop the com­mit­tee for Landrieu, who is ex­pec­ted to work closely with oil-state col­league Murkowski on a range of top­ics.

Wyden, Landrieu, and Murkowski posed for a photo after the com­mit­tee ses­sion ended Thursday. “Those two,” Wyden said of Landrieu and Murkowski, “are go­ing to change the world.”

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