The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted Thursday to advance the nomination of Rep. Deb Haaland to head the Interior Department, narrowly avoiding a deadlock after Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, crossed party lines to support President Biden’s pick.
The 11-9 vote to report the nominee favorably came a day after the Senate Finance Committee split 14-14 on Health and Human Services nominee Xavier Becerra, requiring additional steps in the Senate to discharge his nomination, a fate that Ms. Haaland avoided thanks to Ms. Murkowski.
“I am going to place my trust in Rep. Haaland and her team despite some very real misgivings,” Ms. Murkowski said.
Ms. Haaland also won the support of Sen. Joe Manchin III, a coal-state senator and potential swing vote, despite her previous opposition to hydraulic fracturing on public lands and support for Mr. Biden’s decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline.
“While I may not personally agree with some of her past statements and policy positions, as secretary, she will be carrying out President Biden’s agenda,” said the West Virginia Democrat, who chairs the committee. “At her hearing, she confirmed that she and the administration recognize that our country will remain dependent on fossil fuels for years to come, and a transition to a clean energy future must come through innovation, not elimination.”
The discharge vote sends Ms. Haaland’s nomination to the floor, where Ms. Murkowski’s support is expected to prove decisive in the 50-50 Senate.
Ms. Murkowski said she “really struggled” with the decision, torn between the New Mexico Democrat’s previous resistance to resource development on public lands and the historic nomination of an enrolled tribal member who would be the first American Indian Cabinet secretary.
“She told me she knows she will need to represent every Alaskan, including those who work to responsibly develop our lands,” Ms. Murkowski said. “She committed to me that she will, these are her words, make sure that we’re doing all we can to ensure that your constituents have the opportunities that they need.”
Mr. Biden wasted no time in signaling his hostility to oil-and-gas development, signing an executive order to suspend all new leasing on public lands and canceling the 2017 cross-border permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.
“Given the early days of this administration, I do have my doubts that that is going to be the case, but I have decided to support this nomination today, to support the first Native American who will hold this position and with the expectation that Rep. Haaland will be true to her word, not just on matters relating to native peoples, but also responsible resource development,” Ms. Murkowski said.
Other Republicans were less conflicted.
Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, the committee’s ranking member, quoted Ms. Haaland’s previous declarations against drilling and fracking on public lands.
“Before her nomination, Rep. Haaland stated that she was, quote, wholeheartedly against fracking and drilling on public lands. She wanted to, quote, keep fossil fuels in the ground, and she pledged to, quote, vote against all fossil fuel infrastructure,” Mr. Barrasso said. “I along with other Western senators have consistently opposed nominees who hold such radical views.”
He cited her decisions in the previous Congress to cosponsor the Green New Deal resolution and legislation to keep the grizzly bear permanently on the Endangered Species List in spite of scientific recommendations to delist the bear by the previous three administrations.
“Rep. Haaland’s positions are squarely at odds with the mission of the Department of the Interior and outside of the mainstream,” Mr. Barrasso said.
Republicans also accused her of evading or refusing to answer questions during the confirmation hearing. It took Sen. James E. Risch, Idaho Republican, four tries before she acknowledged that she supported canceling the Keystone XL pipeline.
Sen. Steve Daines, Montana Republican, called her a “far-left ideologue who is out of touch with Montana” in a statement after Thursday’s vote.
“She opposes the Keystone XL pipeline, supports the Green New Deal, has called for a ban on all pipelines and new energy development, would not commit to maintain current access to our public lands, and refuses to follow the science when it comes to wildlife and land management decisions,” Mr. Daines said.
Still, her pull as an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna proved strong.
“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,” Mr. Manchin said.
• Valerie Richardson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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