WASHINGTON – When Representative Deb Haaland was appointed Secretary of the Interior by President Biden in December, the decision was described as historic. She was the first Native American woman ever to be nominated to the Cabinet – in this case as director of a department that abused and neglected Indigenous Americans for much of the nation’s history.
On Tuesday, when she stands for confirmation before her hearing, another label will be put on her nomination: contested.
No other Biden candidate for the head of a cabinet department has divided the political parties so deeply. For her sizable number of supporters, she embodies the hope of the Biden era, an activist representative from New Mexico who, like no other cabinet member, would ethnically and politically break the ground.
Her critics have focused on her activism, particularly her outspoken condemnation of all oil and gas exploration on public land and her fierce opposition to what is known as hydraulic fracking.
“Representative Haaland has a long history of vehement opposition to American fossil fuels,” said Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, one of the largest oil, gas and coal-producing states in the country and a Republican Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will consider her nomination this week.
Spurred on by an activist campaign, Ms. Haaland emerged last fall as a candidate to run the Biden Government’s Home Office, the giant government agency that oversees the country’s 500 million acre public land and is most responsible for the welfare of the 1, 9 million indigenous people of the nation.
Ms. Haaland, a resident of Laguna Pueblo, one of the 574 nationally recognized tribes in the country, would also face one of Mr. Biden’s most controversial climate policies, his promise to ban all fracking on public land.
To call your nomination the most vulnerable of Mr. Biden’s plan would be wrong. That title is part of his decision to head the White House Administration and Budget Office, Neera Tanden, who has received opposition not only from Republicans but also from the Senate’s most conservative Democrat, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.
What distinguishes Ms. Tanden’s nomination from Ms. Haaland’s is the deep support from the activist wing of the Democratic Party. Ms. Tanden’s social media needling from Senator Bernie Sanders, regardless of Vermont, and her association with Hillary Clinton have made her liberal support lukewarm at best, while Ms. Haaland has become a favorite of the Sanders Wing, who she sees as a transformative figure. It could also win the support of some Republican moderates, like Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, 18 percent of the state of which is Alaska.
“I’ve never seen the number of people across the country excited to be nominated,” said Collin O’Mara, director of the National Wildlife Federation and former chief environmental officer in Delaware who took over with the transition of the Biden administration Team worked together to compile its list of environmental nominees.
At the center of this party-political divide is Senator Manchin, who heads the Senate’s Energy Committee and has long stood on one side with Republicans on energy and climate change issues.
To win him over, Ms. Haaland will highlight her distinctive personal history and stubborn background that could appeal to a West Virginian who identifies with the working class of his increasingly republican state.
“I am no stranger to the struggles that many families across America are facing today,” she will say Monday afternoon, out of prepared remarks from the Home Office. “I’ve lived from paycheck to paycheck for most of my adult life.”
“Because of these struggles, I fully understand the role the interior must play in the president’s plan to rebuild better. to use our natural resources responsibly in order to protect them for future generations – so that we can continue to work, live, hunt, fish and pray among them, ”Ms. Haaland will say according to the comments.
A 35th generation New Mexican and a child of military veterans, she attended 13 public schools before graduating from high school, started a salsa company, and worked as a cake decorator before advancing college and law school with grocery stamps and student loans.
In 2015, Ms. Haaland became the leader of the State Democratic Party and helped bring the New Mexico Statehouse under democratic control. In 2018, she and Sharice Davids of Kansas became the first two Native American women to be elected to Congress.
This personal story did not protect them from partisan attacks. The republicans of the oil state have described Ms. Haaland as “radical” and “divisive”.
Some of Ms. Haaland’s previous environmental positions went further than those of Mr Biden, who has tried to reassure the oil and gas industry and unions that his plans do not include closing existing wells and fracking on public land. Ms. Haaland was originally a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal – the resolution by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, and Senator Edward Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts – calling on the United States to clean up fossil fuel pollution within a decade.
“I am wholeheartedly against fracking and drilling on public land,” Ms. Haaland told The Guardian in 2019.
Her congressional campaign backed the people’s call for climate change, a petition calling on governments to “promise a total and immediate ban on fracking”. In 2016, Ms. Haaland joined the Standing Rock Sioux protesters in North Dakota who camped for months against the Dakota Access oil pipeline.
Senator Steve Daines, a Republican from the oil and coal-rich state of Montana who also sits on the Senate energy panel, said that while he disagreed with Mr Biden’s energy and climate agenda, he voted to approve candidates like this confirm as Jennifer Granholm for the energy secretary and Pete Buttigieg for the transport secretary.
But Mr Daines said Ms. Haaland could be guided more by the activist beliefs she advocated prior to her nomination than by Mr Bidens. “I am not convinced that she can part with these radical views,” Daines said in an interview.
There is also opposition in their own home state, where the $ 2 billion annually generated by oil and gas exploration on public properties accounts for nearly a quarter of New Mexico’s budget.
“A permanent ban would destroy New Mexico’s economy,” said Ryan Flynn, executive director of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association. “The consequences for New Mexico would be more severe than for any other state.”
Three Democrats preparing Ms. Haaland for her hearing said they remain confident that Ms. Haaland will affirm it.
Mr Manchin declined an interview request, although his spokeswoman, Sam Runyon, said he was looking forward to Tuesday’s hearing “where you will further discuss your experience and qualifications as Head of the Home Office”.
Moving them forward is a national campaign to move their candidacy from outlier to inevitable.
In a letter published last week, nearly 500 liberal, environmental and Native American groups wrote: “Representative Haaland is a proven leader and the right person to lead the charge against the existential threats of our time – combating climate, extinction and the Covid-19 crises and inequalities in racial justice in our public federal states. “
The Montana Wildlife Fund placed an advertisement in four newspapers, signed by 2,500 Montanans, asking Mr. Daines to vote for them.
Ms. Haaland’s supporters said they were ready to fight any senator willing to vote against the first Native American cabinet secretary.
“There is potential for Republicans to burn their bridges with tribal and indigenous voters if they speak out against them,” said Julian Brave to NoiseCat, vice president of strategy and policy at Research Group Data for Progress, who led the campaign last fall to urge Mr. Biden nominated Ms. Haaland.
“In Arizona, Wisconsin, Alaska and New Mexico – much of the western part of the US – this is a significant part of the vote,” he added. “If you want to be competitive in these areas, it is better not to lose 80 percent of the local vote.”
Ms. Haaland’s supporters also cite her role as a member of the House Natural Resources Committee in enforcing a major bipartisan law on public land last year that increased funding for the conservation of land for public use. Alaska Representative Don Young, the Republican House veteran who worked with Ms. Haaland on this bill, will introduce it to the panel on Tuesday.
In a statement last year, Mr. Young named Ms. Haaland a “consensus builder” who was “open to work across the aisle” and “poured her passion into the job every day”.