WASHINGTON – When Representative Deb Haaland was appointed in December as President Biden’s Home Secretary, the move was hailed as historic. She was the first Native American to be appointed to serve on Cabinet – in this case, to head a department that, for much of the country’s history, abused and neglected Native Americans.
On Tuesday, as she faces her confirmation hearing, another label will be applied to her appointment: besieged.
No other Biden candidate for a cabinet department has divided political parties so sharply. For her sheer number of supporters, she epitomized the hope of the Biden era, an activist representative of New Mexico’s second term who would innovate like no other cabinet member, both ethnically and politically.
Critics have focused on his activism, particularly his direct denunciations of any oil and gas exploration on public lands and his staunch opposition to the method of extracting natural gas known as hydraulic fracturing or hydraulic fracturing.
“Representative Haaland has a long history of being a vocal opponent of American fossil fuels,” said Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, one of the nation’s largest oil, gas and coal-producing states, which is the senior Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. , who will review his nomination this week.
Driven by an activist campaign, Ms Haaland emerged last fall as a black horse candidate for head of the Home Department of the Biden administration, the sprawling government agency that oversees the 500 million acres of land public bodies in the country and is most responsible for the well-being of the country’s 1.9 million Indigenous people.
Ms Haaland, a citizen of Laguna Pueblo, one of 574 federally recognized tribes, would also become the face of one of Mr Biden’s most controversial climate change policies, her pledge to ban all fracking on land public.
Calling his most threatened nomination off the slate of Mr. Biden would be wrong. This title belongs to his choice of leading White House Management and Budget Office, Neera Tanden, which has met with opposition not only from Republicans but also from the Senate’s most conservative Democrat, Joe Manchin III of Virginia. -Western.
What differentiates Ms Tanden’s appointment from Ms Haaland’s is the depth of their support from the militant wing of the Democratic Party. Ms Tanden’s social media needling of Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and her association with Hillary Clinton left her Liberal support lukewarm at best, while Ms Haaland became a favorite of the Sanders wing, who sees it as a digit transformation. She could also win the support of some moderate Republicans, such as Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, whose state is 18 percent from Alaska.
“The number of people across the country who are excited about his appointment, I’ve never seen it,” said Collin O’Mara, head of the National Wildlife Federation and former senior Delaware environmental official who worked with the transition of the Biden administration. when drawing up its list of candidates for environmental positions.
At the center of this partisan chasm once again sits Senator Manchin, who heads the Senate Energy Committee and has a history of supporting Republicans on energy and climate change issues.
To convince him, Ms Haaland will highlight her distinct personal history and difficult background that might appeal to a West Virginian who identifies with the working class of his increasingly Republican state.
“I’m no stranger to the struggles many families across America face today,” she said, according to prepared remarks distributed by the Home Office Monday afternoon. “I have lived most of my adult life from paycheck to paycheck.”
“It is because of these struggles that I fully understand the role that the interior must play in the president’s plan to rebuild better; to responsibly manage our natural resources to protect them for future generations – so that we can continue to work, live, hunt, fish and pray among them, ”said Ms. Haaland, according to the remarks.
A “35th generation New Mexican” and child of veterans, she attended 13 public schools before graduating from high school, started a salsa business, and worked as a cake decorator before going to college and university. law school on food stamps and student loans. .
In 2015, Ms. Haaland became the leader of the state’s Democratic Party and helped bring the New Mexico Statehouse into democratic control. In 2018, she and Sharice Davids of Kansas became the first two Native American women elected to Congress.
This personal story did not isolate her from partisan attacks. Republicans in the oil states have called Ms. Haaland “radical” and “divisive.”
Some of Ms Haaland’s old environmental positions have gone further than those of Mr Biden, who has sought to reassure the oil and gas industry and unions that his plans do not include stopping drilling and existing fracking on public lands. Ms Haaland was one of the original co-sponsors of The Green New Deal, the resolution drafted by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, and Senator Edward Markey, Democrat from Massachusetts.
which calls on the United States to eradicate fossil fuel pollution within a decade.
“I am wholeheartedly against fracking and drilling on public lands,” Ms. Haaland told The Guardian in 2019.
His congressional campaign sponsored the People’s Demand for Climate Change, a petition demanding that governments “commit to an outright ban on fracking.” In 2016, Ms. Haaland joined protesters from Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota who camped for months against the Dakota Access pipeline.
Senator Steve Daines, an oil and coal-rich Montana state Republican who also sits on the Senate Energy Panel, said if he disagreed with Mr. Biden’s program on energy and climate change, he had voted to confirm nominees such as Jennifer Granholm for energy secretary and Pete Buttigieg for transport secretary.
But Mr Daines said Ms Haaland may be more strongly guided by the militant beliefs she espoused before her appointment than by those of Mr Biden. “I am not convinced that she can part with these radical views,” Daines said in an interview.
There is also opposition in his own home state, where the $ 2 billion generated annually from oil and gas production on public lands represents nearly a quarter of New Mexico’s budget.
“A permanent ban would devastate the New Mexico economy,” said Ryan Flynn, executive director of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association. “The consequences for New Mexico would be more serious than for any other state.”
Three Democrats who are preparing Ms Haaland for her hearing said they remain confident in Ms Haaland’s confirmation.
Mr Manchin declined a request for an interview, although his spokesperson, Sam Runyon, said he looked forward to Tuesday’s hearing, “where they will discuss in more detail his experience and qualifications for. head the Ministry of the Interior.
Propelling Her Forward is a nationwide campaign to elevate her candidacy from the outlier to the inevitable.
In a letter released last week, nearly 500 liberal, environmental and Native American groups wrote, “Representative Haaland is a proven leader and the right person to lead the charge against the existential threats of our time – the fight against the climate. , Extinction and Covid- 19 Racial Justice Crises and Inequalities on our Federal Public Lands. “
The Montana Wildlife Fund ran an ad signed by 2,500 Montanans in four newspapers urging Mr. Daines to vote for it.
Ms. Haaland’s supporters have said they are ready to campaign against any senator willing to vote against the Native American first cabinet secretary.
“It’s possible that Republicans will burn their bridges with tribal and indigenous voters if they come out against it,” said Julian Brave NoiseCat, vice president of strategy and policy at the Data for Progress research group that led last fall’s campaign to urge Mr. Biden to nominate Ms. Haaland.
“In Arizona, Wisconsin, Alaska and New Mexico – in many parts of the western United States – it’s a big chunk of the vote,” he added. “If you want to be competitive in these areas, you better not lose 80% of the indigenous voices.”
Ms Haaland’s backers also highlight her role as a member of the House Natural Resources Committee in promoting an important bipartisan law on public lands last year that increased funding to preserve land for public use. . Presenting her to the panel on Tuesday will be Rep. Don Young of Alaska, the Republican House veteran who worked with Ms. Haaland on this bill.
In a statement last year, Mr. Young called Ms. Haaland a “consensus builder” who “was open to working across the aisle” and “would put her passion to work every day.”