The Senate Energy Committee advanced Rep. Deb Haaland’s (D-N.M.) nomination to head the Interior Department to the full chamber on Thursday, setting up a vote that’s expected to make her the first Native American to join a presidential cabinet.
Details: The Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 11-9 to approve Haaland’s nomination. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a moderate Republican who will be influential when a vote on Haaland comes to the full Senate, joined 10 Democrats in approving her.
Murkowski said she had “struggled” with the vote for Haaland, one of the most progressive members of the House and who has previously protested pipeline development. Murkowski met with Haaland twice to discuss Alaska’s dependence on the oil and gas industry, which has suffered as the industry shifts its focus to the lower 48 states.
But Native Americans in the state also told Murkowski that Haaland would be crucial to elevate their issues to the highest levels of the federal government.
“I am going to place my trust in Representative Haaland and her team despite some very real misgivings,” Murkowski said.
“Know that I intend to work with you because I want you to be successful and quite honestly we need you to be successful, but I am also going to hold you to your commitments to ensure that Alaska is allowed to prosper,” she added.
Among those voting for approval was Energy Chair Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a moderate Democrat who was viewed as crucial to Haaland’s chances. Manchin said he had had qualms over Haaland’s opposition to fossil fuels, but that support for her from Alaska Rep. Don Young — a staunch Republican who said he had worked with her successfully in the past — helped convince him to vote to approve her.
“While I may not personally agree with some of her past statements and policy positions, as secretary she will be carrying out President Biden’s agenda,” Manchin said. “I was deeply impressed by the strong endorsement that she received by Congressman Don Young, for whom I have the utmost respect, and who has been in Congress long enough to be able to read people and know their heart and soul.”
Manchin added: “230 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.”
Murkowski’s vote had been in question, as the Alaska senator took Haaland to task for her criticisms of Tara Sweeney, a Native American Interior official under former department Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Context: The committee vote puts Haaland one step closer to becoming the first Native American to win approval to a Cabinet position. Several Republican committee members, including ranking member John Barrasso and Sen. Cynthia Lummis, both of Wyoming, plus Steve Daines of Montana had sharply criticized Haaland, pledging to vote against her nomination even before her hearing was scheduled.
The oil-state senators blasted Haaland for her past statements against fossil fuels and oil pipelines. During her confirmation hearing last week, Haaland, softening her stances, said the department would work with the fossil fuel industry to address any toll the Biden administration’s push to develop clean energy would have on the sector’s workers.
Barrasso, before the vote, blasted Haaland as unresponsive during the hearing and to questions for the record.
“Representative Haaland’s positions are squarely at odds with the mission of the Department of the Interior, and outside of the mainstream,” he said.
Still, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, another moderate Republican, pledged Wednesday to vote to approve Haaland as Interior secretary, all but ensuring her winning the 51 votes necessary for appointment.
What’s next: Haaland’s nomination goes to the full Senate for a vote.