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Biden Picks Haaland to be First Native American Interior Secretary

December 17, 2020 by Dan McCue
In this March 5, 2020,photo Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., Native American Caucus co-chair, joined at right by Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, speaks to reporters about the 2020 Census on Capitol Hill in Washington.(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON – President-elect Joe Biden has asked Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland, of New Mexico, to serve as the first Native American interior secretary, a historic pick for a department that oversees the country’s vast natural resources and much of the government’s dealings with nearly 600 federally recognized tribes.

Haaland, 60, is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, and if confirmed, has said she would like to transform the department from a promoter of fossil fuel development into a champion of renewable energy, energy conservation and other policies to help mitigate the effects of climate change.

Biden has pledged to bar any new oil and gas leasing on public lands — an effort likely to require action from Interior.

Word of Biden’s decision on Interior comes a day after House leaders said they believe Rep. Deb Haaland would be an excellent choice as interior secretary in the coming Biden administration — despite the fact it would further narrow the Democratic majority in the chamber.

In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Haaland, one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress, is “one of the most respected and one of the best members of Congress” and would be an “excellent choice” to lead Interior.

A short time later, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Haaland’s selection “would be very historic and very appropriate.”

Haaland, who was elected to Congress in 2018 as part of the centrist wave that gave the Democrats control of the House, has emerged in recent days as President-elect Joe Biden’s preferred candidate to lead the Interior Department.

But the final decision was reportedly delayed by concerns among Democratic House leaders about filling her seat and others stemming from Biden’s turning to House members to fill some of his administration posts.

The president-elect previously tapped two other Democratic representatives, Cedric Richmond of Louisiana and Marcia Fudge of Ohio, for administration posts, and while all of the seats are likely to remain in Democratic control, it could take months for their respective states to hold special elections.

That could make it tough, at least for a time, to move the Democratic agenda forward. Though a few races have yet to be called, including a nail biter in New York state, the Democrats are sure to have the narrowest majority in the House in two decades when the new Congress convenes in January.

In Haaland’s case, New Mexico law would not require her to resign her House seat until her confirmation is complete.

The New Mexico secretary of state, now a Democrat, would then have 10 days to set the date of a general election to fill the vacancy, to occur within 77 to 91 days of the vacancy taking effect.

Pelosi’s statement of support opened the door for Haaland’s selection to advance.

Hoyer went a step further, saying reports and rumors that House leadership sought to block the nomination were entirely untrue.

“I have not talked to one single person in the Biden administration about Rep. Haaland, who I consider a close and dear friend and a wonderful, smart and effective leader,” Hoyer told reporters during a pen and pad session Wednesday afternoon.

“Now, let me clarify, what I said shortly after the election was that the margin in the House was very close, and that it would be difficult if, in fact, members of Congress were selected to go in the administration,” he said. “I continue to believe that.”

“But I never spoke of any particular member … I was speaking, generically, about the closeness in numbers between Democratic and Republican members. And I think we need to be aware of that,” Hoyer added.

Majority Whip James Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in the House, has also thrown his support behind the New Mexico Representative for interior.

Others in the running for the Interior post were said to be retiring Sen. Tom Udall, another New Mexico Democrat, and former Interior Department official Michael Connor.

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