WASHINGTON — Deb Haaland has moved a step closer to becoming the first Native American to serve as a federal Cabinet secretary, with a Senate committee on Thursday advancing her nomination to lead the Department of the Interior.
The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources voted 11-9 to send her nomination to a vote by the full Senate. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) was the only GOP senator to join the panel’s 10 Democrats — including Colorado’s John Hickenlooper — in supporting Haaland, a New Mexico Democrat who has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2018.
Murkowski, who represents a state where the Interior Department plays a significant role, said Thursday that she “really struggled” in coming to her decision on Haaland’s nomination. She weighed input from Alaska natives proud to see a Native American finally tapped for a Cabinet post against concerns regarding her past statements against fracking and drilling on public lands.
In their one-on-one meetings, Murkowski said Haaland told her that if confirmed, “she knows she will need to represent every Alaskan, including those who work to responsibly develop our lands.”
“I am going to place my trust in Rep. Haaland and her team despite some very real misgivings,” Murkowski said, adding that she intends to work with Haaland but will also hold her to her “commitments to ensure that Alaska is allowed to prosper.”
Hickenlooper offered a more enthusiastic endorsement of Haaland.
“She will make a great — and historic — @Interior Secretary, with a firm commitment to protecting our public lands and deep understanding of policy’s impact on vulnerable communities,” Hickenlooper tweeted Thursday morning.
This morning I voted to advance @DebHaalandNM out of the Energy and Natural Resources committee. She will make a great — and historic — @Interior Secretary, with a firm commitment to protecting our public lands and deep understanding of policy's impact on vulnerable communities.
— Senator John Hickenlooper (@SenatorHick) March 4, 2021
If confirmed by the Senate, Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo, would run the $21 billion, 70,000-employee agency that oversees more than 450 million acres of public land and most federal-tribal relations.
During her confirmation hearings last week, Haaland faced sharp questioning from Republican senators from oil and gas-producing states about the Biden administration’s energy policies. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) derided her views opposing the use of fossil fuels and fracking as “radical” and “squarely at odds with the mission of the Department of the Interior.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), the committee’s chairman, said Thursday that while he does not personally agree with some of Haaland’s past statements on energy development, she “made very clear” that she and the Biden administration “recognize our country will remain dependent on fossil fuels for years to come.” He also noted the historic nature of Haaland’s nomination.
“Two hundred and thirty years after Washington called his first Cabinet meeting, it is long past time to give a Native American woman a seat on the Cabinet table,” Manchin said.