WASHINGTON — On the second day of confirmation hearings for President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Interior Department — a position that ranks eighth under the president and tasked with overseeing federal lands and waters across the country — Rep. Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) of New Mexico reminded senators that, if confirmed, she will work together with lawmakers to find bipartisan solutions.

“I have said many times yesterday that I will absolutely consult with you and with all the members of this committee, it’s important,” Rep. Haaland said in response to Sen. Mark Kelly from Arizona about water management in the West. “Congress is a co-equal branch of government. I think if we work together, we can find solutions to some of these issues.”

Senators on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources had until 6 p.m. Wednesday evening to submit final questions to Haaland. If more than half of the committee supports her nomination, the congresswoman will make history as the first Native American cabinet member.

Rep. Haaland sat for an additional two and a half hours of questioning Wednesday morning, picking up the hearing from an initial two and a half hours the day prior. Some Republican Senators drove hard questions addressing what they said were concerns about “radical views” and Haaland blindly advancing Biden’s “non-scientific based agenda.”

At the center of her testimony, Haaland stressed the importance of prioritizing the Earth for generations to come. 

“It’s difficult to not feel obligated to protect this land, and I feel that every Indigenous person in this country understands that,” Haaland said Wednesday. “That means protecting it in every single way and ensuring that those jobs, that sustenance, the opportunities for our children and grandchildren to learn and grow in this beautiful country, that we keep that for many generations to come.”

Several senators from the GOP, including Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, expressed concern regarding the current halt on permitting resource extraction in their states, which they say will lead to unemployment. 

Sen. Cassidy said he spoke for his colleagues when he offered that they weren’t “trying to be rude” with their questions. “I’m representing those families who just lost their jobs because of the cancellation of the (Keystone) XL Pipeline,” he said.

Sen. Barasso asked Haaland if she would encourage Biden to extend the 60-day ban on leasing or not. “You’ve said repeatedly that President Biden’s agenda is your agenda,” Barasso said. “What this committee wants to know is, how will you advise him?”

Haaland said that, if confirmed, President Biden’s agenda would be her agenda, and refused to comment on personal positions.

“We need to care as much about the environment as much as we do about the fossil fuel infrastructure in your state and other states, and we need to balance those priorities,” she said. “Sometimes it might seem like a tricky balancing act, but I feel very strongly that if we have a mind to protect our public lands for future generations, that we’ll also be able to protect jobs for future generations, as well.”

In Haaland’s defense, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon told Haaland he is not only going to support her, but speak for her on the floor of the Senate.

“I think you have made the case beyond a doubt that you'll be there for rural jobs,” Wyden said. “You'll do it in a way that isn't divorced from protecting our treasures, which is in my part of the world. We want jobs and environmental protection. We see two sides of the same coin. I think you get it.”

After the hearing, several senators publicly released their decisions on both sides of Haaland’s nomination. 

Sen. Daines posted his statement on Twitter, stating that he will vote against Haaland’s nomination because, “she’s a hardline ideologue with radical views out of touch with Montana and the West.”

In response to comments like Daines’, Aaron Payment, First Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians, told Native News Online that those who don’t support American Indians should not sit on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, of which Daines is a member. “Other than a paternalistic desire, the committee should be comprised of true allies who would support the nation’s first American Indian to a cabinet post,” he said.

Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, released a statement shortly after 3 p.m. Wednesday announcing his intention to confirm Haaland.

“Given the political divisions currently facing our country, I believe that every Presidential nominee and every Member of Congress must be committed to a new era of bipartisanship,” he wrote. “With respect to Representative Haaland and her confirmation hearing, while we do not agree on every issue, she reaffirmed her strong commitment to bipartisanship, addressing the diverse needs of our country and maintaining our nation’s energy independence.”

Crystal Echo Hawk, founder and executive director of IllumiNative, told Native News Online that the second round of questioning today left Native people “immensely concerned” about the level of disrespect from many Senators. 

Despite these vicious attacks, Deb Haaland continued to show her extensive knowledge, strength and expertise,” Echo Hawk said. “All of Indian Country is watching, hopeful that her historic confirmation as the first Native American to serve in the Cabinet is only just the beginning.”

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About The Author
Author: Jenna Kunze
Staff Writer
Jenna Kunze is a reporter for Native News Online and Tribal Business News. Kunze’s bylines have appeared in The Arctic Sounder, High Country News, Indian Country Today, Smithsonian Magazine and Anchorage Daily News. In 2020, she was one of 16 U.S. journalists selected by the Pulitzer Center to report on the effects of climate change in the Alaskan Arctic region. Prior to that, she served as lead reporter at the Chilkat Valley News in Haines, Alaska. Kunze is based in New York.