Aliyah Chavez
Indian Country Today

In December, New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland was selected by President Joe Biden as his nominee to be the nation’s next Interior secretary. So what happens next?

Earlier this week, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources announced it will hold her confirmation hearing on Feb. 23 at 9:30 a.m. EST.

The hearing allows Haaland, Laguna and Jemez Pueblos, to provide various senators on the committee with information about her plans to lead the Interior agency. She will give an opening statement outlining her qualifications and reasons suggesting she is the right candidate.

Then senators will ask her questions about her views on managing the nation’s public lands, water, and national parks.

Senators are sure to ask about her plans to support the nation’s natural resources, such as oil and gas — as well as her views on conservation work and how she will work with tribal nations, if confirmed as secretary.

This dialogue will likely be lively. Some senators, who support the extractive industry, have previously stated their opposition to Haaland’s nomination because she protested the Keystone XL pipeline and she publicly supports the Green New Deal.

Why is this hearing historic?

There has never been a Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary. If confirmed, Haaland will be the first.

The interior secretary is also a huge post. The leader of the federal agency is sixth in line of succession to the presidency, according to the White House. It is the office that manages the country’s vast public lands and coastal waters while also employing 70,000 people.

Who will ask Haaland questions?

A bipartisan group of 20 senators on the Energy and Natural Resources committee. 

Here is a list of members on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources: 

How long will the hearing last?

There is no time limit, so basically as long as it needs to. A January hearing to confirm the Energy secretary lasted nearly three hours. A 2019 hearing to confirm previous Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt lasted slightly longer than two hours.

What happens after the hearing is over?

More often than not, committees do not vote on a nomination the same day they hold a hearing. They usually wait until the next meeting of the committee.

It is likely days after the hearing, the committee will host a business meeting to officially decide how to process Haaland's nomination. The committee has four options. It can report the nomination favorably, unfavorably, without recommendation or it can choose to take no action.

If an even split or a majority of the senators on the committee vote to advance her nomination, it will eventually go before the nation’s full 100 members of the Senate for a vote.

It’s important to note that there are a number of ways to get a nomination to the Senate floor if rejected by this particular committee.

What will happen when the full Senate votes on her nomination?

If her nomination goes to the full Senate, all 100 senators will vote on whether or not to confirm her to the position. If a majority of them vote in favor of her nomination, she will become the nation’s next interior secretary.

If the vote is a tie, Vice President Kamala Harris will be called to act as a tie-breaker vote.

The last time the Senate blocked a Cabinet nomination was in 1989, according to the U.S. Senate website. George Bush nominated John G. Tower to lead the Defense Department. The Senate rejected the nomination in a 47-53 vote.

How long could this entire process take? 

There is no direct answer to this question, but we can look to other nominations for guidance.

On Jan. 27, Energy Secretary nominee Jennifer Granholm had her confirmation hearing with the energy and natural resources committee. The committee voted to advance her nomination but three weeks later the full Senate has yet to confirm her.

In 2019, Bernardt’s confirmation process took a total of 14 days before he was sworn into office.

Correction: Sen. Argus King, of Maine, is an Independent. An earlier version of this story listed King as a Democrat. 

ICT logo bridge

Aliyah Chavez, Kewa Pueblo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today. Follow her on Twitter: @aliyahjchavez or email her at achavez@indiancountrytoday.com.

Indian Country Today is a nonprofit news organization. Will you support our work? All of our content is free. There are no subscriptions or costs. We have hired more Native journalists in the past year than any news organization ─ and with your help we will continue to grow and create career paths for our people. Support Indian Country Today for as little as $10.