Indianz.Com > News > Fireworks as Secretary Haaland faces Republican critic on Capitol Hill
Indianz.Com Video: Fireworks as Secretary Deb Haaland goes before Congress
Fireworks as Secretary Haaland faces Republican critic on Capitol Hill
Wednesday, April 19, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A Republican lawmaker who was unable to derail Deb Haaland’s historic nomination as Secretary of the Interior had somewhat of a meltdown as he came face-to-face with the Native trailblazer at a hearing on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Pete Stauber (R-Minnesota) has made no secret of his support for a controversial copper mine on Ojibwe treaty territory in northern Minnesota. But he drew criticism as Democrats on the House Committee on Natural Resources accused him of mistreating Haaland at the lengthy hearing on Wednesday morning.

“Has the time expired or is there more hyperventilation that we need to endure?” asked Rep. Jared Huffman (D-California) after Stauber exhausted his time complaining to Haaland about the proposed mine.

Indianz.Com Audio: Rep. Pete Stauber (R-Minnesota)

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona), the highest ranking Democrat on the committee, didn’t like what he heard either. He asked for Haaland, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, to be treated with respect as she testified about her department’s fiscal year 2024 budget request.

“We have significant differences in terms of policy and philosophy on this committee, no question about it, said Grijalva, who previously served as chair of the legislative panel with jurisdiction over Indian issues.

“But berating the Secretary or any witness that we have before us, diminishing and demeaning the victim — I mean the victim, exactly — I think is inappropriate and I would suggest decorum,” Grijalva said..

But Stauber, whose voice became louder and louder as he questioned Haaland about the mine, wasn’t happy with Grijalva’s request for decency. He called for the ranking member’s words to be “taken down” — or stricken from the record of the hearing — implying that somehow he had been wronged.

“That’s factually inaccurate,” Stauber said before elaborating: “The fact that a member has berated the Secretary of Interior.”

“That is factually correct — and that’s being charitable,” asserted Huffman, who is the highest ranking Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife, and Fisheries.

That’s when Stauber got even louder.

“Mr. Huffman, I spoke the truth with, with passion, and when you speak the truth with passion and protecting my constituents, it’s with passion,” Stauber said.

The heated exchange prompted Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) to call for a “five-minute recess.” He had been running the meeting because Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Arkansas), the Republican chair of the committee, had stepped out before Stauber went on his tirade.

“And we’re gonna find out what berate means,” Grijalva said as the gavel came down for the recess.

“All the definitions,” said Gosar.

Indianz.Com Audio: Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Arkansas), Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona), Rep. Pete Stauber (R-Minnesota)

Some fifteen minutes later, cooler heads prevailed — somewhat. While Grijalva apologized that his general request for politeness was taken “personally” by Stauber, his Republican colleague offered no regrets for his treatment of Haaland.

“I just don’t want anybody to misinterpret, maybe my volume, for my passion. It’s not an insult,” said Stauber.

“I will yield back and will continue with the proceedings,” Stauber concluded.

“I appreciate the cooperation of the committee to restore order in the committee,” said Westerman, who by this time had returned to the hearing room in the Longworth House Office Building.

Before the hearing, Republican lawmakers had gone out of their way to highlight Haaland’s presence. They noted that she hadn’t appeared before the committee in “nearly two years.”

So it was no surprise that Haaland would be in the hot seat now that Republicans control the House of Representatives. But in a repeat of her confirmation hearings more than two years ago, when Republicans in the U.S. Senate raised their voices and slammed tables when asking questions, she remained calm and composed in responding to Stauber.

“Congressman, it is my understanding that we made a decision in this area,” Haaland started saying before Stauber jumped in.

“Madam Secretary, I have to interrupt you,” Stauber said.

Deb Haaland
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland at the Avi Kwa Ame National Monument in Nevada on April 14, 2023. Photo: U.S. Department of the Interior

Stauber then accused Haaland, who is the first Native person to lead the Department of the Interior, of failing to understand the facts about the proposed Twin Metals Mine. He claimed that she had “no idea” what she was doing when she signed an order protecting the land from development.

Tribal nations in Minnesota in fact opposed the mining project, which is located in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. In signing the order protecting the land in January, Haaland pointed out that it lies within the 1854 Ceded Territory of the Chippewa Bands.

With Stauber’s frequent interruptions at the hearing, Haaland was unable to fully explain why she withdrew more than 225,000 acres Boundary Waters in from mineral and geothermal leasing for the next 20 years.

“Protecting a place like Boundary Waters is key to supporting the health of the watershed and its surrounding wildlife, upholding our tribal trust and treaty responsibilities, and boosting the local recreation economy,” Haaland said in a news release on January 26. “With an eye toward protecting this special place for future generations, I have made this decision using the best-available science and extensive public input.”

Two years earlier, as Democrat Joe Biden as about to take office as president of the United States in January 2021, Stauber began circulating a letter calling Haaland’s historic nomination a “threat to America’s natural-resources based economy.” He said she would make decisions that would make the nation more reliant on “foreign sources” of energy.

Stauber’s letter left out any mention of the proposed Twin Metals Mine in his Congressional district. That means he didn’t have to explain that the project is being backed by a foreign holding company owned by a foreign billionaire who once rented his expensive home in Washington, D.C., to the daughter and son-in-law of Republican former president Donald Trump.

Still, the omissions of information didn’t stop Republicans from sending out a news release after the end of Wednesday’s hearing — which lasted more than five hours — accusing Haaland of failing to answer for “Reckless Spending” and an “Anti-American Energy Agenda.”

Since taking control of the House of Representatives at the start of the 118th Congress in January, Republicans have said they will use their power to investigate the Biden administration. But they have also said they will place a priority on economic development in Indian Country, an issue they tackled in the first hearing of the House Subcommittee of Indian and Insular Affairs last month.

“Our tribal nations must be able to pursue economic opportunities without our federal government making that process unnecessarily difficult,” said Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-Wyoming), a new member of Congress who serves as chair of the subcommittee for the 118th Congress. “We should look at ways to support infrastructure, internet access, and elimination of antiquated regulations that stall development.”

Following the initial hearing on economic development on March 1, the subcommittee on March 24 took testimony on legislation that would make it easier for tribes to lease, sell and transfer their lands. Tribes have frequently had to ask the U.S. government for permission due to a federal statute that dates back to the late 1700s.

“A very outdated statute, called the Indian Non-Intercourse Act, prohibits Indian tribes from engaging in these types of real estate transactions without formal approval from either the Interior Department or the Congress,” Vice Chair John Williams of the United Auburn Indian Community, base in California told the subcommittee in written testimony. As a result, he said at least seven of the largest title insurance companies have adopted policies that make it harder for tribes to do business on their lands.

The Biden administration said it supports H.R.1246, which allows tribes to lease their trust lands for up to 99 years without having to get U.S. approval. But Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland, who serves under Secretary Haaland at the Department of the Interior, expressed opposition to H.R.1532, which would allow tribes to exercise more control over their fee lands without federal oversight.

“The Non-Intercourse Act was passed to ensure that the federal government had an orderly process to acquire lands from Indians, and over the past two centuries, a significant amount of case law has been built on this act,” said Newland, a citizen of the Bay Mills Indian Community. “Any legislation that would change the operation of the Non-Intercourse Act, however well-intentioned, may create more confusion around the status of Indian lands and inadvertently harm tribes in the process.”

Compared to the full House Committee on Natural Resources, the subcommittee frequently acts in a bipartisan fashion when it comes to tribal affairs — Hageman introduced both H.R.1246 and H.R.1532. Stauber, notably, does not belong the panel.

The subcommittee’s third and most recent hearing, on March 29, tackled the disparities in health care for American Indians and Alaska Natives in reservation, rural and urban settings.

House Committee on Natural Resources Notices
Examining the President’s FY 2024 Budget Request for the Department of the Interior (April 19, 2023)
Challenges and Opportunities for Improving Healthcare Delivery in Tribal Communities (March 29, 2023)
Legislative Hearing on H.R. 1246 and H.R. 1532 | Indian and Insular Affairs Subcommittee (March 24, 2023)
Unlocking Indian Country’s Economic Potential | Indian and Insular Affairs Subcommittee (March 1, 2023)

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