GOP senators vow to block interior secretary nominee because she'll protect the interior

8440

Republican lawmakers worry that Deb Haaland will stop the Trump administration's giveaway of public lands.

The Republican minority in the Senate is reportedly scheming to block confirmation of Rep. Deb Haaland, President Joe Biden's pick to lead the Department of the Interior. Their stated objections to her nomination reflect their fear that she, like Biden, would actually protect the nation's interior.

Due to GOP obstruction, Haaland has not yet even received a confirmation hearing. If confirmed as interior secretary, the second-term Democratic representative from New Mexico would be the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary.

Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) said Friday, "I am not convinced the Congresswoman can divorce her radical views and represent what's best for Montana and all stakeholders in the West." Noting her support for climate change legislation, her opposition to the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and her support for Biden's moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on federal lands, Daines threatened, "Unless my concerns are addressed, I will block her confirmation."

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), the third-ranking member of the Senate GOP leadership and the ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, also threatened to oppose Haaland's confirmation, saying that her opposition to more drilling on public lands was a "radical" view "squarely at odds with the responsible management of our nation's energy resources."

Wyoming's junior senator, Republican Cynthia Lummis, said Tuesday that Haaland's hostility to unlimited fossil fuel extraction "is very contrary to Wyoming’s best interests and, quite frankly, New Mexico's best interests." She threatened to oppose not just Lummis, but also "others at the Department of Interior until we get a chance to talk to the president, and those in the White House about our concerns with their extraordinary negative impact on public land states."

All three senators have been beneficiaries of hundreds of thousands of dollars in oil and gas industry contributions to their campaigns, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Without a majority in the Senate, Republicans cannot block Haaland's confirmation without at least one Democratic vote, but they can delay the process.

According to the Interior Department's website, its mission includes conserving and managing "the Nation's natural resources and cultural heritage for the benefit and enjoyment of the American people." It also is responsible for keeping the country's "special commitments to American Indians, Alaska Natives, and affiliated island communities."

But under the Trump administration, the Department of the Interior did none of that. It pushed to sell off public lands, auction away natural resources, and scrap environmental protections.

"They're determined to lease and develop every acre they possibly can, which will minimize the potential for conserving these landscapes in subsequent administrations," Jim Lyons, who served in the Interior Department under President Barack Obama, told the Washington Post in 2018. "They're quite efficient, and they know exactly what they want to do."

Trump's offensive actions concerning Native American peoples are well-documented: He used racist slurs against them, pushed to build his border wall on Native American burial grounds, and ignored treaties in supporting the building of the dangerous Keystone XL pipeline across tribal lands.

Biden ran for president on a commitment to protect the Earth and to strengthen "the Nation-to-Nation relationship between the United States and Indian tribes."

Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and a longtime backer of climate change action and renewable energy, vowed after Biden picked her in December to help him keep those promises, tweeting in December, "A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior. Growing up in my mother's Pueblo household made me fierce. I'll be fierce for all of us, our planet, and all of our protected land. I am honored and ready to serve."

Native American leaders have cheered the nomination. "What you're hearing across Indian Country is a huge sigh of relief," Judith Le Blanc, director of the Native Organizers Alliance, told USA Today in December. "For the first time, we will have a person sitting in the leadership of the Department of the Interior who understands the responsibility of our ancestors. She understands the sacred, the inherent and the legal right that Indians have to be caretakers of Mother Earth."

Last month, the heads of 26 tribal nations in Oklahoma endorsed her confirmation, writing, "Rep. Haaland is not only a historic pick—she is the right pick for this position. She understands sovereignty and appreciates the trust relationship and our nation's treaty obligations."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.