Senate sets up vote on Granholm nomination for energy secretary

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — The U.S. Senate voted 67-32 Wednesday afternoon to end debate on the nomination of former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm to serve as energy secretary, teeing up a final vote on her confirmation on Thursday.

At the Energy Department, Granholm would oversee a $35 billion-a-year agency tasked with oversight of the country's energy supply, maintaining and upgrading the nation's nuclear arsenal, scientific research at 17 national laboratories and the environmental cleanup of Cold War-era nuclear weapons sites. 

Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, D-Mich., testifies before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during a hearing to examine her nomination to be Secretary of Energy, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington.

She would take the helm of the agency as the nation reckons with the effects of climate change generating more destructive and frequent weather, with last week's devastating electricity outages in Texas highlighting weaknesses in the nation's power grid.

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"One thing is certain: America’s electricity grid is simply not able to handle extreme weather events. Whether it’s wildfires in California or snowstorms in Texas, we need to upgrade our grid infrastructure ASAP," Granholm tweeted last week.

She has also promised make grid security a priority amid the threat of cyber attacks.

If confirmed, Granholm would be only the second woman to hold the position in a non-acting capacity. Hazel O'Leary was the first under President Bill Clinton.

"I think that she will have some and probably substantial support from GOP senators because she seems to enjoy good relationships with many Republican and Democratic senators," said Carl Tobias, professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.

"And the views she expressed on energy production in the hearing may align more closely with some GOP senators than other Democrats and some in the Biden administration."

He noted that, during the Trump administration, the confirmation votes usually closely resembled the cloture votes, so Wednesday's breakdown was a "strong" bipartisan margin, given the current 50-50 division in the Senate.

Granholm alsoreceived bipartisan support earlier this month when the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources voted 13-4 to advance her nomination to the full Senate for consideration. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer this week called Granholm "undoubtedly qualified" for the position.

"Make no mistake, the Senate is going to move quickly to approve key officials in the Biden administration this work period," Schumer said.

"These positions and agencies have an immense influence over the policies of the United States, impacts hundreds of millions of American lives. At a time of acute national challenge, we need qualified leaders atop our federal agencies and fast." 

The former two-term governor has received little pushback on her record since Biden nominated her and appears headed for easy confirmation. 

Two of the Republican senators who voted against Granholm in committee said they couldn't support her nomination in light of the Biden administration's aggressive climate agenda and executive actions, saying that workers in their states would lose jobs as a result.

“By signing executive orders to ban oil, gas and coal production on federal lands, to kill the Keystone XL Pipeline and to rejoin the Paris climate agreement, the president will throw thousands of Americans out of work," said Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the committee's ranking Republican. 

"Their livelihoods are being sacrificed in the name of the Biden agenda."

Barrasso voted Wednesday against advancing Granholm's nomination.

Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, said before the committee vote that he's known Granholm for a decade and has been "very impressed" by her on a personal and professional level, calling her capable, competent and sincere. 

"I can't in good conscience confirm her to this position knowing that that's the approach this administration is taking," Lee said. 

"By executive fiat, they are jeopardizing American energy independence and security and they're devastating much of Utah's economy. I can't support that and will reluctantly vote against her."

Granholm, who turned 62 this month, told senators at her January hearing that she would endeavor to protect jobs while working aggressively to transition the country to sustainable energy if confirmed to the post, promoting the market for electric car batteries, wind energy and carbon capture technology.

"We can put our workers in good-paying jobs manufacturing and installing those solutions in America," she said. 

She said that in states that lost traditional energy jobs, she sees an opportunity for them to specialize in making the technologies that reduce carbon emissions.

After the Energy committee vote, she tweeted that "even if you didn’t vote for me, know that I will work for your people and your state as well. I know we can work together, and I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves."

Granholm was governor from 2003 to 2011 during the Great Recession. She pushed renewable energy initiatives during her administration — something fundamental to Biden's plans to combat climate change, including a pledge to reach net zero emissions by 2050. 

The Canadian-born Granholm is a graduate of Harvard Law School. She was the first woman to be elected as governor of Michigan in 2002 and was reelected in 2006. She served as Michigan's attorney general from 1998-2002.

mburke@detroitnews.com