Senate Confirms Haaland As First Native American Interior Secretary

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 24: Rep. Debra Haaland, (D-NM) President Joe Biden's nominee for Secretary of the Interior, testifies during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resou... WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 24: Rep. Debra Haaland, (D-NM) President Joe Biden's nominee for Secretary of the Interior, testifies during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resource, at the U.S. Capitol on February 24, 2021 in Washington, DC. Rep. Haaland's opposition to fracking and early endorsement of the Green New Deal has made her one of President Biden's more controversial cabinet nominees. (Photo by Leigh Vogel-Pool/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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March 15, 2021 6:21 p.m.

The Senate confirmed Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) in a 51-40 vote on Monday as the U.S. interior secretary, a historic feat marking Haaland as the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary and to lead the federal agency that holds large influence over the country’s tribes.

Haaland, who is one of the first two Native American women elected to the House, is viewed as a critical player behind President Biden’s clean energy agenda that aims for a 50% reduction of the country’s carbon footprint by 2035. Serving as the vice chair of the House Committee for Natural Resources, Haaland faced a showdown vote in the Senate this month amid Republican concern for her past remarks voicing her opposition to oil and gas drilling.

Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) announced last week that they would put a “hold” on Haaland’s nomination as a procedural tactic to delay Biden’s nominees by forcing debate. Both Republican senators criticized Haaland for her “radical climate agenda.”

However, Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) support for Haaland to lead the Interior Department under the Biden administration likely secured Haaland’s confirmation in a 50-50 Senate where Democrats have zero margin of error to confirm the President’s Cabinet picks. Manchin, who supports fossil fuel development and hails from a coal mining state, said that he based his support for Haaland’s confirmation due to her “strong commitment to bipartisanship” after he oversaw her two-day confirmation hearing as the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) had signaled their support for Haaland’s confirmation as well.

Haaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo and touts being a 35th-generation resident of New Mexico. As interior secretary, Haaland will lead the agency that has major influence over nearly 600 federally recognized tribes in addition to the country’s national parks, public lands, waterways, wildlife and other natural resources.

Haaland’s confirmation breaks precedent after 245 years of non-Native and mostly male officials serving as interior secretary.

Haaland thanked the Senate shortly after the chamber voted for her confirmation.

In remarks delivered shortly after the chamber’s vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) nodded to the historical significance of Haaland’s confirmation, which he described as a “huge step forward.”

“It creates a government that more embodies the full richness and diversity of this country,” Schumer said. “We know for so long that the Native American community was treated badly and we have a long way to go.”

Schumer added that Haaland “represents a turnaround” and believes that as interior secretary, she will work to reverse the Trump administration’s moves to undermine the relationship between the federal government and tribes.

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