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Democrats on the Senate committee generally defended Mr. Binz, though Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, used his nomination to savage the Obama administration for what he saw as a war against coal production.

“We’re getting the living crap beaten out of us by this administration,” Mr. Manchin said.

The committee has 12 Democrats and 10 Republicans, so if Mr. Manchin joined all 10 of the GOP members in opposing the nomination it could end up being killed in the panel.