Democrats rally around Granholm after GOP attacks

By Nico Portuondo | 09/26/2023 06:31 AM EDT

Conservative groups have called on Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm to resign, and at least one Republican has brought up the prospect of impeachment over ethics concerns.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is seen at the winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington on Jan. 18. Republican lawmakers and conservative groups have repeatedly attacked Granholm over ethics concerns. Francis Chung/POLITICO

This story was updated at 10 a.m. EDT.

Congressional Democrats are defending Jennifer Granholm following Republican criticism of the Energy secretary’s ethical behavior.

In recent months, ridicule of Granholm has grown. One House Republican floated a potential impeachment inquiry of the Energy secretary, accusing her of perjury. Over a dozen conservative groups have demanded her resignation over “repeated ethical lapses.” And a recent tumultuous electric vehicle road trip has been the subject of scorn by conservative media and Republican leaders.


And yet prominent Democrats say that the attacks on Granholm’s ethical record are shocking considering her standing among many members of both parties.

Energy and Natural Resources Chair Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who has frequently clashed with the Biden administration over its energy policies, suggested Republican attacks are over the top — including those from committee ranking member John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).

“She made an honest mistake,” Manchin said. “She’s human. People make mistakes.”

Manchin was referring to Granholm’s June letter in which she admitted to having incorrectly told the committee in April that she did not own any individual stocks.

Manchin will be holding a hearing in the coming weeks scrutinizing DOE’s climate spending, said an ENR aide granted anonymity to speak candidly. Granholm could be a witness.

Granholm, in the letter to correct the record, said she owned stocks in six companies that were deemed “non-conflicting” by DOE ethics officials. Her husband owned stock in Ford Motor Co. The shares have been sold.

Republicans across Congress, however, aren’t buying the “honest mistake” explanation.

“That’s just willful blindness,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said of Manchin’s comments. “And it’s really telling that the committee won’t look into this and doesn’t want to think about it.”

The issue came to a head this month when New York Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney wrote on social media that the controversy was enough of a concern that “Congress must consider an impeachment inquiry into Granholm for her perjury charges.”

“That’s perjury, period,” Tenney said during a House hearing with Granholm. “Why should you not resign, or why should we not consider some kind of impeachment inquiry into you for your perjury charges?”

Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.).
Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.) has suggested Granholm should resign or be removed from office. | Ken Cedeno/AP Photo

Granholm has repeatedly maintained that both she and DOE officials see ethics as a No. 1 priority.

“Of course I do not believe it’s OK to violate ethics laws. Nor does anyone else in the Department of Energy,” Granholm told Tenney during the hearing. “I made a mistake when I testified saying that I had sold all stock. I honestly thought we had.”

It’s unclear whether the impeachment push will pass muster with more moderate Republicans in the coming months. Tenney hasn’t been shy in her impeachment threats, backing broader calls for inquiries into President Joe Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas), who chairs the Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Energy Policy and Regulatory Affairs, said he would need more time to investigate the facts of the matter.

“People get accused [of] all sorts of things, I’ve been accused of things,” Fallon said. “You have to drill down to the truth, and I have to look into what the appropriate response would be.”

DOE declined comment for this story.

Summer of scrutiny

The controversy over the stock sale hasn’t been Granholm’s only ethics headache.

Republicans in 2021 criticized her for holding stock in Proterra Inc. while directing policy that could boost the electric bus company.

The Office of Special Counsel last year said Granholm violated the Hatch Act in 2021 when appearing in a video in which she cheered Democrats winning a majority in Congress.

But scrutiny of Granholm’s actions over a variety of issues has never been as prominent in Congress as it has been in recent months.

In August, 14 conservative groups called on Granholm to resign, citing “repeated ethical lapses.”

Republicans have since repeatedly pointed to an NPR report that while on a four-day road trip to promote EVs, DOE staff used a gas-powered car to reserve a spot at a Georgia charging station so the secretary, who was traveling behind, could quickly recharge her Cadillac Lyriq.

While DOE aides were blocking the spot, a family with a young child looking to charge on a hot day became frustrated and called the police. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) made sure to mention the gaffe during a recent Senate Republican leadership press conference.

“A family actually called the police … . They had a baby in their car that was crying [on a] really hot day,” Ernst said. “Here’s a gas-powered car, Granholm’s staff trying to save them a spot so they could just slip in line and give their EV a charge.”

House Oversight Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) and Fallon on Tuesday morning announced a probe of the EV road trip, which they called a “taxpayer-funded publicity stunt.”

Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee are jumping in on the action against the secretary, too.

Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Energy, Climate, and Grid Security Subcommittee Chair Jeff Duncan went after Granholm in August for reports that she consulted with a Chinese energy official days before the Biden administration announced it would release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in 2021.

Granholm’s backers, however, continue to see any of the controversies pushed by Republicans as just noise.

“I’ve never heard anything to make me doubt her ethical commitment,” said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with Democrats. “She’s making a very good secretary.”

On the horizon

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and ranking member John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) are shown. Barrasso has become one of Granholm’s antagonists. Manchin defends her. | Francis Chung/POLITICO

Even if a formal impeachment inquiry doesn’t transpire in the House, Granholm’s ethics are likely to continue to be under significant Republican scrutiny in the months to come.

Barrasso pushed back on Hawley’s assertion that the committee won’t dive into recent controversies. He recently called for a DOE inspector general investigation into Granholm’s stock admission.

“At times, she has not been forthcoming, she has not been honest,” Barrasso said. “Anytime she comes before the committee, and she continues to do so … [the committee] will continue to ask questions along those lines.”

When the next ENR hearing does occur, Hawley isn’t likely to hold back, and he echoed Tenney’s assertion that Granholm actively committed perjury.

“At a bare minimum, she ought to be brought back before the Energy Committee,” said Hawley. “This is where she committed what looks a heck of a lot like perjury.”

Still, it appears that Democrats will continue to have her back.

“She is great,” said Energy and Commerce ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.). “Impeachment of her is absurd, totally absurd.”