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Confirmation vote for for first Native American Interior secretary on tap despite GOP opposition

Photo by Joshua Roberts | Getty Images

The Senate is expected to vote within days on the confirmation of U.S. Rep. Debra A. Haaland to lead the Interior Department, despite procedural barriers Republicans from Montana and Wyoming announced Tuesday.

Republican Sens. Steve Daines of Montana and Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming placed holds on Haaland’s nomination, meaning the chamber now must take an additional procedural vote before advancing to a final vote on her confirmation.

But Lummis and Daines’ moves will likely not hurt Haaland’s chances of eventually being confirmed as Interior secretary. Senate moderates seen as potential swing votes—including Republicans Lisa Murkowksi of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin III—have pledged their support.

Sen. Jon Tester, (D-Mont.), said Tuesday he planned to vote for Haaland’s confirmation and that Daines’ hold would only delay bipartisan approval.

“It’s an attempt to hold up the nomination,” Tester said. “I think she’s fit for the job.”

The Interior Department is over several other bureaus, including the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, both of which have significant interest in North Carolina.

North Carolina’s 10 national parks, two federally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers, as well as National Heritage sites and scenic trails, generate more than $2 billion in economic benefit to the state. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been embroiled in a lawsuit in North Carolina over the fate of the endangered red wolf, which lives only in two counties in the eastern part of the state.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer filed cloture on Haaland’s confirmation Tuesday, which indicates the Senate will soon take the procedural vote, followed by a final vote.

Haaland, a Democratic House member from New Mexico, would make history by becoming the first Native American to join a presidential Cabinet.

Daines and Lummis tied their opposition to Biden administration energy policies, including a pause on new oil and gas leases on federal lands and the cancellation of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Haaland’s “record is clear: she opposes pipelines & fossil fuels, ignores science when it comes to wildlife management & wants to ban trapping on public lands,” Daines said in a tweet announcing his hold.

Lummis said through a spokesman the oil and gas pause could cost Wyoming nearly $13 billion in tax revenue.

“Haaland will be a champion of this and even more radical policies, and I am committed to doing anything I can to fight the Biden and Haaland job-killing agenda,” she said.

Daines is possibly Haaland’s most vocal critic in the Senate and has signaled for weeks he would move to delay her confirmation.

He was among the first to announce his opposition to her nomination, irking some of Haaland’s Native American supporters in his state who said he should have at least kept an open mind through her confirmation hearing at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

After the committee confirmation hearing last month, where Republicans grilled Haaland on Biden energy policies, Daines followed up with 86 written questions—more than any other member of the panel—on a range of Interior issues.

Haaland’s confirmation has already taken longer than that of any other Interior secretary in modern history. Almost all presidents have had their Interior secretary in place with a few weeks of inauguration.

Jacob Fischler helps cover Washington for the States Newsroom network, of which NC Policy watch is a member.

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