WASHINGTON — A key Senate committee on Thursday approved the nomination of New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland to be interior secretary, clearing the way for a Senate vote that is likely to make her the first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved Haaland's nomination, 11-9, sending it to the Senate floor. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski was the lone Republican to support Haaland, who won unanimous backing from committee Democrats.
Murkowski, a former chair of the committee, said she had “some real misgivings” about Haaland, because of her support for policies that Murkowski said could impede Alaska's reliance on oil and other fossil fuels. But the senator said she would place her “trust” in Haaland's word that she would work with her and other Alaskans to support the state.
Her vote comes with a warning, Murkowski added: She expects Haaland “will be true to her word” to help Alaska. Haaland, Laguna and Jemez Pueblos, was not in the committee room, but Murkowski addressed her directly, saying, "I will hold you to your commitments.''
“Quite honestly,'' Murkowski added, ”we need you to be a success.''
Democratic Sens. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Maria Cantwell of Washington state both called the committee vote historic, and both said they were disappointed at the anti-Haaland rhetoric used by several Republicans. Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the panel's top Republican, and other GOP senators have repeatedly called Haaland's views “radical” and extreme.
Heinrich said two interior secretaries nominated by former President Donald Trump could be called “radical” for their support of expanded drilling and other resource extraction, but he never used that word to describe them. Under the leadership of Cantwell and Murkowski, the energy panel has been bipartisan and productive in recent years, Heinrich said, adding that he hopes that tradition continues.
The committee vote follows an announcement Wednesday by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, that she will support Haaland in the full Senate. Her vote, along with Murkowski's, makes Haaland’s confirmation by the Senate nearly certain.
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The panel's chairman, Sen. Joe Manchin, announced his support for Haaland last week. Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia, said Thursday that he does not agree with Haaland on a variety of issues, including the Keystone XL oil pipeline, but was impressed by the strong endorsement by Alaska Rep. Don Young, a conservative Republican who is the longest-serving member of the House and has forged a strong working relationship with the liberal Haaland.
As a former governor, Manchin also said he knows how important it is for a president to have his “team on board” in the Cabinet.
“It is long past time to give a Native American woman a seat at the Cabinet table,'' he said. Interior oversees the nation’s public lands and waters and leads relations with nearly 600 federally recognized tribes.
Barrasso, who has led opposition to Haaland, said her hostility to fracking, the Keystone XL oil pipeline and other issues made her unfit to serve in a position in which she will oversee energy development on vast swaths of federal lands, mostly in the West, as well as offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska.
Barrasso said a moratorium imposed by Biden on oil and gas leases on federal lands “is taking a sledgehammer to Western states’ economies.″ The moratorium, which Haaland supports, could cost thousands of jobs in West, Barrasso said.
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Many are celebrating the vote, including Fawn Sharp, Quinault and president of the National Congress of American Indians.
“Today’s vote takes us one step closer to Congresswoman Haaland’s historic confirmation. It is fitting that while we celebrate Women’s History Month, Deb Haaland is poised to make it,” said NCAI President Fawn Sharp. “We need Congresswoman Haaland on the job without delay. The nation needs her leadership and vision to help lead our response to climate change, to steward our lands and cultural resources, and to ensure that across the federal government, the United States lives up to its trust and treaty obligations to tribal nations and our citizens.”
Indian Country Today contributed to this report.