WASHINGTON—U.S. Rep. Debra Haaland made history on Monday when she became the first Native American to ever be confirmed by the U.S. Senate to hold a position in a president’s Cabinet.
In a narrow 51-40 vote, senators confirmed Haaland, a New Mexico Democrat, to serve as secretary of Interior, where she will run a $21 billion agency that manages more than 450 million acres of public lands—as well as the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
She was backed by four Republican senators: Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, and Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
“A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior,” Haaland tweeted when she was picked by then President-elect Joe Biden in December. “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.”
Biden’s early moves on energy and environmental policy — including scrapping the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline, freezing new leases for oil and gas development on federal lands and pledging to protect 30% of U.S. land and water by 2030 — made Haaland a big target for Republican members who disagree with the administration’s actions.
Her nomination was marked by repeated attacks from Republican senators, including Montana Sen. Steve Daines, who labeled her as a “far-left ideologue” too “radical” for the position. “Rep. Haaland’s hostile, divisive policies don’t represent the mainstream views held by most Montanans,” Daines tweeted last week.
Another Senate Republican, John Kennedy of Louisiana, called Haaland a “neo-socialist, left-of-Lenin whack job,” though he later apologized, and said he was searching for another word, POLITICO reported.
The tide of disapproval ran the risk of alienating Native Americans in Western states, and Democrats said that the same things haven’t been said about the administration’s White male nominees.
“I think we need to be honest with ourselves about what is going on here,” Sen. Tina Smith, a Minnesota Democrat, said on the floor Monday just before the vote.
“Once again a woman, and a woman of color, is being held to a different standard and we need to name it. We have to come to grips with the reality. Time after time, strong women, and especially women of color, are attacked, when White men with the same views are welcomed to walk right through that door.” Read more