New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland on Thursday moved a step closer to taking a spot in the president’s inner circle.
Haaland was favorably recommended to be the next secretary of the Interior by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and her historic nomination will now be voted on by the entire Senate.
The committee voted 11-9 in support of Haaland, a Democrat who is set to become the first Native American Cabinet secretary. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, joined all the committee’s Democrats during the vote on Thursday morning.
“I have decided to support this nomination today, to support the first Native American who will hold this position, with the expectation that Rep. Haaland will be true to her word,” Murkowski said. “Not just on issues related to Native peoples but also responsible resource development.”
Murkowski was the second Republican this week to come out in support of Haaland. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine also publicly said she would vote to confirm Haaland.
That support puts Haaland on the brink of shattering another glass ceiling. She and Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kansas, in 2018 became the first Native American women elected to Congress.
“My life experiences give me hope for the future. If an Indigenous woman from humble beginnings can be confirmed as Secretary of the Interior, our country and its promise still holds true for everyone,” Haaland, who is a member of the Laguna Pueblo, tweeted after the vote.
Haaland has been a staunch defender of the environment, both in Congress and before she was elected. She was co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, and she attended protests against the Keystone XL Pipeline. Fossil fuel industry advocates and several Republicans have opposed her nomination.
Last month, Haaland was introduced to the Senate committee by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, who spoke about Haaland’s willingness to reach across the aisle on certain issues. During her confirmation hearing, Haaland touted her bipartisan work, and she said oil and gas would be part of the country’s energy portfolio for years to come.
Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who studies nominations, said that Haaland’s ability to appeal to conservatives and moderate Democrats has put her on the cusp of confirmation.
“The fact that she’ll listen and she tries to work across the aisle, I think that’s all very positive and allows Murkowski and (other lawmakers) to vote for her,” Tobias said. “Haaland was very good about saying, ‘Look, I might have said things and taken positions, but I’m going to be secretary for the whole country.’ ”
Some remain unconvinced.
“I, along with other Western senators, have consistently opposed nominees who hold such radical views,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, who called Haaland’s views extreme and voted against her nomination. “Rep. Haaland’s positions are squarely at odds with the mission of the Department of the Interior and outside of the mainstream.”
Committee Chairman, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, said he, too, had concerns about Haaland’s prior statements concerning the fossil fuel industry, but that she addressed those concerns during her hearing.
President Biden “is also trying to assemble a Cabinet that reflects the rich diversity of our nation. One that looks like America,” Manchin said. “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 at the table.”
Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., during Thursday’s meeting expressed disappointment in his Republican colleagues who described Haaland’s views as extreme and radical. Heinrich pointed out that Haaland is his representative in the House, and that she keeps an open mind on issues.
“I voted for two interior nominees whose views may have been considered quite radical by many of my constituents. I never used those terms. Because we have to get a lot of work done on this committee,” he said. “She has always shown an ability to work with people with very different views.”
If confirmed, Haaland will have to resign from her position in the House representing most of Albuquerque and surrounding areas. That would trigger a special election, which the New Mexico secretary of state would have to call between 77 and 91 days of the seat being vacated. About a dozen people, Republicans and Democrats and an independent, have declared their intent to seek Haaland’s seat.