Senate panel advances Haaland’s historic nomination to lead Interior Department

and barrasso wept
Deb Haaland testifying during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resource, at the U.S. Capitol on February 24. (Photo by Leigh Vogel-Pool/Getty Images)
and barrasso wept
Rep. Deb 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 Resources February 24.
(Photo by Leigh Vogel-Pool/Getty Images)

Deb Haaland has moved a step closer to becoming the first Native American to serve as a federal Cabinet secretary, with a Senate committee on Thursday advancing her nomination to lead the Department of the Interior.

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources voted 11-9 to send her nomination to a vote by the full Senate. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) was the only GOP senator to join the panel’s 10 Democrats, including Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, in supporting Haaland, a New Mexico Democrat who has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2018.

Murkowski, who represents a state where the Interior Department plays a significant role, said Thursday that she “really struggled” in coming to her decision on Haaland’s nomination. She weighed input from Alaska natives proud to see a Native American finally tapped for a Cabinet post against concerns regarding her past statements against fracking and drilling on public lands.

In their one-on-one meetings, Murkowski said Haaland told her that if confirmed, “she knows she will need to represent every Alaskan, including those who work to responsibly develop our lands.”

“I am going to place my trust in Rep. Haaland and her team despite some very real misgivings,” Murkowski said, adding that she intends to work with Haaland but will also hold her to her “commitments to ensure that Alaska is allowed to prosper.”

If confirmed by the Senate, Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo, would run the $21 billion, 70,000-employee agency that oversees more than 450 million acres of public land and most federal-tribal relations.

During her confirmation hearings last week, Haaland faced sharp questioning from Republican senators from oil and gas-producing states about the Biden administration’s energy policies. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) derided her views opposing the use of fossil fuels and fracking as “radical” and “squarely at odds with the mission of the Department of the Interior.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), the committee’s chairman, said Thursday that while he does not personally agree with some of Haaland’s past statements on energy development, she “made very clear” that she and the Biden administration “recognize our country will remain dependent on fossil fuels for years to come.” He also noted the historic nature of Haaland’s nomination.

“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 on the Cabinet table,” Manchin said.

Laura Olson
Laura covers the nation's capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom, a network of nonprofit outlets that includes Nevada Current. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections, and campaign finance.