Indianz.Com > News > Deb Haaland clears first Senate vote as Secretary for the Interior
Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico) appears before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on the second day of her confirmation hearing to be Secretary of the Interior on February 24, 2021. Photo: DebHaalandNM
Deb Haaland clears first Senate vote as Secretary for the Interior
Thursday, March 4, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico) is on her way to making history yet again, this time as the first Native person in a presidential cabinet.

By a vote of 11 to 9 on Thursday morning, Haaland cleared her first major hurdle in her nomination to be Secretary of the Interior. She recognized the landmark development on social media.

“My life experiences give me hope for the future,” said Haaland, who is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, an Indian nation with homelands in New Mexico.

“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 added, referring to the Department of the Interior, the federal agency with the most trust and treaty responsibilities in Indian Country.

Haaland was approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee with the full support of Democrats. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), the chairman of the legislative committee, set the tone for the business meeting in the nation’s capital.

“It is long past time to give a Native American woman a seat at the Cabinet table,” said Manchin.

But the actual outcome of the committee’s vote wasn’t fully known until a key Republican spoke in support of Haaland. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she heard the voices of Alaska Natives who want to see a Native person serve at the highest levels of the U.S. government.

Native people in Alaska, Murkowski said, are “enormously proud to have a Native American nominated to this position.”

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee: Business meeting to consider the nomination of the Honorable Debra Haaland to be the Secretary of the Interior – March 4, 2021

Every other Republican, however, voted against Haaland to be Secretary of the Interior. The opponents included Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana) and Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), who come from states with significant Indian Country populations.

Barrasso, who is the highest-ranking Republican on the committee, once again characterized Haaland’s well-known views on “radical” and reiterated his opposition to her being confirmed to a position that plays a significant role in setting policy on energy development and management of public lands.

“I cannot support her nomination,” said Barrasso, who previously served as chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

But with Democrats in control of the committee, other members highlighted the unusual manner in which Haaland was treated at her two-day confirmation hearing last week. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), who was the first woman to chair the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said every question was answered amid seemingly apparent attempts at badgering from Republicans.

“This is a historic day and I urge my colleagues to vote yes,” said Cantwell.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico), who introduced Haaland on the opening day of the confirmation hearing last Tuesday, also spoke out. He said he was “disappointed” in the way Republicans acted during a proceeding that has been closely watched in Indian Country.

Heinrich said Republicans were wrong to characterize Haaland’s views as “radical” and “extreme.” He said the “tenor of the discussion” hasn’t been productive so far in the 117th Congress.

“I’ve never used those terms, because we have to get a lot of work done on this committee,” said Heinrich, who pointed out that he voted in favor of two Secretary nominees from the most recent Republican presidential administration.

“I can tell you that Congresswoman Haaland’s views in the Congress quite accurately represent the views of most of my fellow neighbors,” said Heinrich, who lives in the 1st Congressional District in New Mexico, to which Haaland has been elected to serve twice.

“She has always shown the ability to work with people of very different views,” Heinrich said of Haaland’s bipartisan and consensus building approach to a wide range of issues, one which enabled her to see an unprecedented number of bills enacted into law with the support of Republicans.

Despite Haaland’s cooperative efforts, Republicans are planning to obstruct her nomination now that it is headed to the floor of the U.S. Senate. Barrasso and Daines in particular have said they are going to encourage fellow GOP lawmakers to vote against the nomination.

“Rep. Haaland has made it clear that she will not be able to separate her radical views and ideological agenda from what’s best for Montana and the West,” Daines said on Thursday. “I urge all of my colleagues, especially from Western states, to oppose her nomination if and when it comes up for a vote by the full Senate.”

But other than Barrasso, who opposes Haaland, and Murkowski, who is supporting the nomination, no other Republicans spoke during the business meeting.

“Today’s vote takes us one step closer to Congresswoman Haaland’s historic confirmation,” President Fawn Sharp of the National Congress of American Indians, the largest inter-tribal advocacy organization in the U.S., said in a statement after the vote. “It is fitting that while we celebrate Women’s History Month, Deb Haaland is poised to make it.”

“We need Congresswoman Haaland on the job without delay,” added Sharp, who also serves as president of the Quinault Nation, located in Washington state.

“The nation needs her leadership and vision to help lead our response to climate change, to steward our lands and cultural resources, and to ensure that across the federal government, the United States lives up to its trust and treaty obligations to tribal nations and our citizens,” Sharp concluded.

Tribes and their advocates have been paying close attention to the confirmation process. Though many reacted negatively to the way Haaland was treated, particularly by Barrasso who at one point raised his voice at her, they are confident the final Senate vote will be bipartisan.

“At the end of the day, Deb has the votes,” Holly Cook Macarro, a citizen of the Red Lake Nation, said during an Indianz.Com broadcast on Clubhouse, an audio-based platform, last Friday. She was watching the business meeting and cheered when Murkowski supported Haaland.

Macarro, an expert in Indian law and policy who has worked in the nation’s capital for decades, predicted that as many as five Republican senators will vote in favor of Haaland. In addition to Murkowski, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has said she will be supporting the nomination.

“After examining Representative Deb Haaland’s qualifications, reviewing her hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and meeting with her personally, I will vote to confirm her to be the Secretary of the Department of the Interior,” Collins said on Wednesday, ahead of the committee meeting.

“While we certainly have different views on some issues, her role in helping to shepherd the Great American Outdoors Act through the House will be beneficial to the Department’s implementation of this landmark conservation law, which I cosponsored,” Collins added. “I also appreciate Representative Haaland’s willingness to support issues important to the State of Maine, such as Acadia National Park, as well as her deep knowledge of tribal issues, which has earned her the support of tribes across the country, including those in Maine.”

“Representative Haaland promised to be bipartisan in her new role at the Department of the Interior, and I look forward to working with her,” Collins concluded.

With Democratic support shored up, tribal advocates are looking to Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) as possible Republican crossovers for Haaland’s nomination as Secretary of the Interior. Both have been voting in favor of most of President Joe Biden’s nominees, Cook Macarro pointed out

Romney has been of particular interest because he has supported the Navajo Nation in the tribe’s water rights settlement. A potion of the reservation, which is the largest in the U.S., lies in Utah.

But tribal citizens who have contacted Romney’s office in recent days are approaching the situation with an open mind, in order to address concerns in Utah about the Bears Ears National Monument. The site is of enormous significance to Navajo, Pueblo and other tribes in the Southwest, whose ancestral sites, sacred areas and burial grounds are located in the region.

In one of his first actions in office, Biden ordered the Department of the Interior to take another look at restoring the boundaries of Bears Ears to those supported by tribes when the monument designation was made toward the end of the Barack Obama administration.

Romney had opposed the larger site and supported the Donald Trump administration’s dismantling of the original Bears Ears boundaries.

The exact timing of a floor vote on Haaland, though, is unclear due to Republican opposition. Writing on Data For Progress, a progressive Democratic group, Cook Macarro said Indian Country could see final action by the end of the month.

“Haaland’s nomination has inspired Native and non-Native people across the nation and beyond,” Cook Macarro, who also serves as chair of the board of directors for the American Indian Graduate Center. “While her candidacy looks stronger than ever, it’s important for all of her supporters to not let up until she’s been sworn in.”

Roll Call: Deb Haaland to be Secretary of the Interior
At a business meeting on March 4, 2021, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources voted 11-9 in favor of the nomination of Deb Haaland to be Secretary of the Interior. The following members voted YES:

• Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), Chairman
• Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington)
• Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont)
• Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon)
• Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico)
• Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii)
• Sen. Angus King (I-Maine)
• Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nevada)
• Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado)
• Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Arizona)
• Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)

All of the NO votes came from Republicans:

• Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), Ranking Member
• Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho)
• Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah)
• Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana)
• Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota)
• Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma)
• Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana)
• Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Mississippi)
• Sen. Marshall Roger (R-Kansas)

Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Notices
Business Meeting: Nomination & Subcommittee Assignments (March 4, 2021)
Hearing to Consider the Nomination of the Honorable Debra Haaland to be the Secretary of the Interior (Continued) (February 24, 2021)
Hearing to Consider Nomination of the Honorable Debra Haaland to be the Secretary of the Interior (February 23, 2021)

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