WASHINGTON – Senator Joe Manchin III, the West Virginia Democrat who heads the Senate Energy Committee, announced Wednesday that he would vote to re-affirm New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland as Head of the Home Office, most likely to ensure that one of President Biden’s most competitive cabinet candidates is confirmed despite escalating Republican opposition to her.

The vote of Mr Manchin, a centrist Democrat from a fossil fuel state who is often on the Republican side on energy issues, could be crucial in confirming Mrs Haaland. The Republicans this week intensified their attacks on the former environmental activist, signaling that the vote to confirm the party in the evenly divided Senate could result in party lines.

The announcement by Mr Manchin that he will vote for Mrs Haaland also underscores the crucial role he will play in the success or failure of the President’s legislative agenda. (He said last week he would vote against another nomination from Mr Biden, Neera Tanden, who was appointed head of the Bureau of Administration and Budget, and questioned her prospects for confirmation.)

If confirmed, Ms. Haaland would make history as the first Native American woman to run a cabinet agency. She would also play a pivotal role in advancing President Biden’s climate change agenda as head of an agency overseeing more than 500 million acres of public land, including national parks, oil and gas wells and endangered species habitat. And she would be accused of putting into effect one of Mr Biden’s most controversial proposals: the ban on future leases to conduct fracking or fracking for oil and gas on public land.

On Tuesday, Senator Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington, told Ms. Haaland, “I almost feel that your nomination is some kind of proxy battle for the future of fossil fuels.”

That proxy battle sparked when Republicans raised concerns about the story of Ms. Haaland, who urged the end of fossil fuel drilling and pipelines – positions well beyond Mr Biden’s.

During her two-day Senate hearing this week, Ms. Haaland, who was first elected to Congress in 2018, repeatedly tried to convince Republicans that in her role as head of a federal agency, she would carry out the president’s agenda instead of them to push past personal positions.

In particular, Republicans pushed her back to her earlier remarks, such as a 2019 interview in which she said, “I am wholeheartedly against fracking and public drilling,” and her participation in the Standing Rock Sioux protesters in North Dakota in 2016 who camped against the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline for months.

Trying to thread a needle between these earlier remarks and actions, Ms. Haaland said, “If I am confirmed as secretary, that is a very different role from a congressman who represents a small district in my state,” she said. “So I understand this role: It should serve all Americans, not just my one district in New Mexico.”

The main Republicans did not seem convinced.

Wyoming Senator John Barrasso, the senior Republican on the energy panel, highlighted Ms. Haaland’s 2018 remarks as she campaigned for the elimination of oil and gas exploration in New Mexico, and suggested legalizing and taxing cannabis to make up for the lost government revenue.

“Is selling marijuana one of the ‘better decisions’ the Biden government has promised to give to displaced oil and gas workers?” Asked Mr. Barrasso.

Ms. Haaland replied that the proposal was meant to signal that she “wants to diversify sources of income for education,” adding, “I don’t know what President Biden thinks about marijuana.”

North Dakota Republican Senator John Hoeven pressed Ms. Haaland about the economic ramifications of the Dakota Access Pipeline closure and asked if she understood that the closure could result in serious job losses in his state.

“When something is shut down, I understand that jobs can be lost,” said Ms. Haaland. “I don’t know the specificity of each individual job there. I would go out of my way to be informed of the issue if it is confirmed. “

While Ms. Haaland told Republicans that she hoped to work with them if this was confirmed, she shied away from neither her legacy nor her history as an environmentalist. In her closing statement, she said, “Navajo Code spokesmen during World War II used the Navajo word for“ our mother ”as the code for“ the United States ”. I feel very strong, which sums up what we’re up against. “She added,” You heard that the earth is called Mother Earth. It is difficult not to feel obliged to protect this country. “

However, before their hearing was finished, the Republican National Committee sent an email asking the senators to vote against Ms. Haaland. She wrote: “In nominating Haaland, Biden joins left-wing interest groups who don’t care what jobs they destroy. I don’t know the real implications of their policies and have no answer as to when they can get Americans back to work. “

Should the Republicans unite against Ms. Haaland, she would need the support of every Democrat in the evenly divided Senate so that Vice President Kamala Harris could cast the decisive vote on a party line. Until Wednesday, the vote of Mr. Manchin, chairman of the Senate’s Energy Committee, remained uncertain. Mr. Manchin, whose home state West Virginia’s economy relies heavily on coal mining, expressed concern about Mr. Biden’s plans to curb fossil fuel exploration.

In questions to Ms. Haaland, Mr. Manchin made it clear that, although he disagreed with many of her previous positions, he appeared open to support Mr. Biden’s candidate and asked if she supported the idea of ​​energy independence.

Ms. Haaland replied: “We want to drive innovation and all of this for our energy needs. It won’t happen overnight. We will continue to rely on fossil fuels. “

In a statement announcing his support for Ms. Haaland, Mr. Manchin said: “Although we do not agree on all issues, she reiterated her strong commitment to impartiality, to addressing the diverse needs of our country and to maintaining our country’s energy independence Country. “

Ms. Haaland may not lose every Republican vote: Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, whose state is 18 percent from Alaska, is still seen as a possible yes vote.

To underscore her non-partisan beliefs, Ms. Haaland was introduced to the Senate committee Tuesday by Ms. Murkowski’s Alaska Republican Don Young.

“You may be wondering why I am doing this,” he said. “Debbie and I became friends,” he said, serving on the House’s natural resources committee. “She made her reach across the aisle to talk to me about Alaska. It is non-partisan. “Nonetheless, Mr. Young stated that he did not agree with the proposed guidelines for stopping drilling.

“Anyone who thinks we’re going to quit fossil fuels right now smokes pot,” he said, adding, “It’s legal in the state of Alaska, by the way.”