The Senate voted on Monday to confirm Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico) as Secretary of the Interior, making her the country’s first Native American Cabinet secretary.
The Senate confirmed Haaland by a vote of 51 to 40. The vote was skipped by nine participants.
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Along with the Democrats in attendance, Republicans Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Dan Sullivan (Alaska), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), and Susan Collins (Maine) backed Haaland.
Haaland thanked the Senate for confirming her in a tweet.
“I am looking forward to working with all of you as Secretary of @Interior. I am prepared to assist. Be Fierce, #BeFierce, #BeFierce, #Be “she penned
Haaland’s resistance to fracking, which is a controversial form of extracting fossil fuels, as well as her participation in a demonstration against the Dakota Access pipeline and support for the Green New Deal, have made her a favorite among progressives while enraging some Republicans.
Senators Steve Daines (Mont.) and Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.) both put holds on her appointment, citing Haaland’s views on pipelines and fossil fuels, and President Biden’s pause on new leases for oil and gas production on federal lands, respectively.
Daines pressed Haaland on her views on fracking and pipelines in general, as well as Biden’s decision to withdraw a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline and his leasing suspension, during her confirmation hearing.
The importance of having a Native American at the helm of an organization with considerable responsibility for the country’s 574 federally recognized tribes was emphasized by Haaland’s supporters.
“Before America’s public lands were America’s public lands, they were Native American lands,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said ahead of the vote. “Deb Haaland will be the first Native American to serve in any president’s Cabinet and the first to serve as the secretary of this department, so that’s kind of a wonderful harmony with history,” he added.
Although the United States had a Native American vice president, Charles Curtis, who served from 1929 to 1933, there has never been a Native American Cabinet secretary.
Haaland also tried to convince critics that she will play a different role as Interior Secretary, saying that fossil fuel energy “does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come,” while emphasizing the need to strike a “balance” between fossil fuels and climate change mitigation.
She said that the president’s pause on leasing public lands and waters for oil and gas exploration was not a “permanent thing.”
When asked about her views on pipelines and fracking, Haaland said that she would be charged with carrying out Biden’s agenda rather than her own.
Biden has stated that he will not accept the Green New Deal and will not prohibit fracking.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), a strong critic of Haaland’s nomination, said in a statement after the vote that Haaland’s views are “severe.”
“Representative Haaland’s radical policy views, lack of substantive responses during the confirmation process, and unwavering support for President Biden’s war on American oil disqualify her for the role of Interior Secretary, he said. “Her views on American energy contradict the Department of the Interior’s mission.”
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Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) said they would support Haaland’s nomination ahead of the vote, while Republican Senators Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) and Sullivan hinted at potential support when they supported Haaland in a procedural vote last week.
Although Murkowski and Collins claimed that they do not agree with Haaland on every issue when announcing their support for her, they have brought up issues such as her support for bipartisan environmental legislation and the historic significance of her confirmation.
Murkowski told a pool of reporters on Monday that she was still undecided.
“‘Yeah, I have every degree of trust,’ I wish I could say. I don’t, so it’s my duty to keep on top of things at all times “she said
The Alaska Republican, on the other hand, spoke about how history was being made.
“Seeing a Native American woman in a position to really manage, if you will, those lands that are part of their homeland was important,” she said. “There is undeniably a sense of pride, but it is far more critical that a woman who has achieved this historic status then lives up to it.”
Meanwhile, Sullivan issued a statement calling the vote one of the “most challenging I have ever made in my tenure in the United States Senate,” but stating that if he voted to confirm Haaland, he would be able to better campaign for Alaskans at the Interior Department.
“The pandemic and the Biden administration’s initial aggressive behavior against Alaska and our resource development sector are placing pressure on our state’s economy and working families,” Sullivan said.
“I believe that voting to approve Congresswoman Haaland as Secretary of the Interior would help me call for a truce in the Biden administration’s war on Alaska’s economy and working families.
Haaland is expected to play a crucial role in Vice President Joe Biden’s attempts to bring the United States to carbon neutrality by 2050 and to restore 30% of the country’s lands and waters by 2030.
When questioned if the “30 by 30” plan will aim to protect all lands or only those owned by the federal government during her confirmation hearing, Haaland said the initiative would be “not just limited to public lands.”
In 2018, the Center for American Progress, a left-wing think tank, reported that 12 percent of the country’s land had been preserved.
During her confirmation hearing, Haaland stated that supporting renewable energy and clean energy employment, the broadband internet connectivity in Native American communities, and coping with missing and murdered indigenous women would be among her top priorities.
She also emphasized work prospects such as caring for abandoned mines and plugging orphaned gas wells, as well as Biden’s commitment to establish a Civilian Climate Corps to conserve public lands and increase reforestation.
She said at the time, “I believe there are millions of jobs in a renewable energy future for Americans, and if verified, I’d be proud to assist the president in pushing those forward.”
Haaland was one of the two first Native American congresswomen elected to Congress in 2018. She served as vice chairwoman of the Natural Resources Committee and chaired its Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands while serving New Mexico’s 1st District.
“Deb Haaland brings a wealth of expertise and experience to her position as Interior Secretary as the former vice chair of the House Natural Resources Committee,” said Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) in a floor speech on Monday. “However, for all of Deb Haaland’s credentials and achievements, one stands out to those who know her best: her empathy.”