This week marks one year since President Biden nominated Laura Daniel-Davis to serve as the Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Land and Minerals Management, a crucial position that oversees oil and gas drilling as well as mining on America’s public lands. Daniel-Davis is exceptionally qualified for the job, having previously served as chief of staff to Interior Secretaries Sally Jewell and Ken Salazar during the Obama administration, and as chief of staff to the deputy Interior secretary during the Clinton administration.
Daniel-Davis has been serving in the Biden administration as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary while she awaits confirmation. Unfortunately, she is the latest in a series of highly-qualified women to have their nominations delayed or killed entirely by Sen. Joe Manchin, the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. His refusal to consider, in a timely manner, women nominated by President Biden stands in stark contrast to the deferential, benefit-of-the-doubt treatment Manchin gave to numerous nominees under President Trump.
Manchin’s pattern began in the first weeks of President Biden’s term, when he announced he would oppose Elizabeth Klein, Biden’s pick for Deputy Secretary of the Interior. The White House pulled Klein’s nomination in March 2021, just weeks after Manchin successfully sank the nomination of Neera Tanden, President Biden’s nominee for the Office of Management and Budget.
Rep. Grace Meng of New York saw Manchin’s trend emerging at the time, noting that “This is not just about any one nominee like Neera, or whoever else — it’s just about this pattern that is happening and increasingly hard to ignore.”
In August 2021, Manchin gave a hearing to Cynthia “Winnie” Stachelberg, Biden’s nominee to be Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management, and Budget. But he never gave Stachelberg a vote, and once it became clear Manchin did not intend to allow the nomination to proceed, the White House pulled her nomination. Both Stachelberg and Klein were later appointed to different positions at Interior that did not require Manchin’s approval.
Four years prior, Manchin sounded a much more deferential tone when it came to presidential nominees. As President Trump took office, Manchin told the Washington Examiner that if a nominee’s background checks and financial disclosures are clean, “I would give the executive a chance to put their government together.”
Manchin added, “Whether you know them or like them or not, if they are clean, they have no background to where it would be detrimental to the job they are going to do, give them a chance and see if they are going to work. And that’s what I would recommend to my own colleagues — quit playing politics with it.”
In early 2017, Manchin repeatedly emphasized that “as a former governor, I understand how crucial it is for an executive leader to have his team in place.” Manchin used those exact words on at least four occasions, explaining his votes to confirm Ryan Zinke, Scott Pruitt, Rick Perry, and Jeff Sessions to cabinet positions.
In the days after President Trump’s electoral victory in 2016, Manchin stressed that “I’ve always given every executive a chance, unless there’s just something scathing that comes out.” He would go on to vote to confirm 18 members of Trump’s cabinet.
While Manchin insisted it was inappropriate to play politics with President Trump’s nominees, he has repeatedly played politics with President Biden’s female nominees, especially Laura Daniel-Davis. One year after she was first nominated, Manchin is still holding her nomination, refusing to give her a vote in committee until the Biden administration provides “clarity” on its oil and gas leasing plans. A spokesman for Manchin confirmed that the senator is holding Daniel-Davis’s nomination hostage, saying that Manchin “would like to see more from the Department that it intends to get back to the business of leasing and production on federal lands and waters in a robust and responsible way.”
E&E News noted that “multiple Senate Democrats and sources in the environmental advocacy community say they still have no idea what that means.”
Manchin’s refusal to advance Daniel-Davis’s nomination stands is especially remarkable in light of his full-throated support of men nominated to similar positions. In June 2021, Manchin took to the Senate floor to encourage a quick confirmation of Tommy Beaudreau as Deputy Interior Secretary. Like Daniel-Davis, Beaudreau had extensive experience inside Interior, and Manchin told his colleagues that Beaudreau “has the knowledge, the experience, the temperament, and the skills needed to serve in this important position.”
Notably, Manchin did not try to hold Beaudreau’s nomination up in exchange for vague political favors.
Manchin’s treatment of Daniel-Davis and other women becomes even more egregious when you look at how he has continued to fast-track men nominated for similar positions. The White House has submitted 27 nominees to Manchin’s committee so far — 11 men and 16 women. On average, it took Manchin 43 days to give male nominees a hearing, compared to 70 days for female nominees. For male nominees, Manchin’s committee averaged 72 days from nomination until a committee vote. For female nominees, getting to a vote has taken nearly a full month longer on average.
The gender disparity has continued past Manchin’s committee and onto the Senate floor as well. Of the 27 nominees sent to ENR, just two men are still awaiting full Senate confirmation, while six women have yet to be confirmed, including Stachelberg and Energy Department nominee Maria Duiame Robinson, whose nominations were withdrawn.
As Laura Daniel-Davis’s nomination hits the one-year mark this week, it remains to be seen whether Manchin will finally give her the deference he showed to so many of President Trump’s nominees, or if he’ll continue his double standard when it comes to delaying action on highly-qualified women nominated by the Biden administration.