WASHINGTON—The Senate confirmed
Rep. Deb Haaland
as President Biden’s interior secretary Monday, in a vote that for the first time will make a Native American a White House cabinet secretary.
The Senate voted to confirm Ms. Haaland on a 51-40 vote, largely along party lines. Republican Sens.
of South Carolina,
of Maine, Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska broke ranks to cast votes in favor of the nomination.
Ms. Murkowski had previously expressed reservations about Ms. Haaland, but said she supported her because of the historic opportunity to have a Native American cabinet secretary. Ms. Collins had previously cited Ms. Haaland’s commitment to conservation funding and knowledge of tribal issues.
“This confirmation is a defining moment for Indigenous peoples not only in the United States but around the world,” said tribal leader Wilfred Herrera Jr., chairman of the All Pueblo Council of Governors in New Mexico. “Indigenous peoples are the original stewards of our lands, waters, skies, and of all living beings.”
Opponents have said Ms. Haaland’s history of environmental activism—she has called fracking “a danger to the air we breathe and water we drink”—is a poor fit for a cabinet secretary who oversees drilling on vast tracts of public lands.
“Representative Haaland has a hostile record toward made-in-America energy, natural resource development, and wildlife and land management,” Sen. Steve Daines (R., Mont.) said in a statement after the vote. “I have serious concerns about how Rep. Haaland will use this position in ways that negatively impact the Montana way of life.”
Along with energy leases on federal land, Ms. Haaland will oversee the national parks and endangered-species protections. She will also lead the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a role that her supporters say will help reconcile long-troubled relations between Washington and America’s Indigenous peoples.
Ms. Haaland, 60 years old, is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna west of Albuquerque and was one of two Native American women who became the first ever elected to Congress in 2018.
Ms. Haaland was born in Arizona and her parents served in the military. Her father, Dutch Haaland, was a Norwegian-American from Minnesota who served as a career Marine Corps officer and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Her Native American mother, Mary Toya, served in the U.S. Navy.
Before her political ascent in New Mexico during the past decade, Ms. Haaland had started a salsa business and was elected the first chairwoman of the board at the Laguna Development Corp., which runs gambling and other tribal businesses. She was part of a wave of progressive Democrats who surged into power in 2018, and has made environmental issues a cornerstone of her agenda, including early support for the Green New Deal.
That made her a target for Republicans from Western states looking to derail her nomination in a closely divided Senate. Two Republicans moved to extend debate citing her past opposition to oil and gas drilling on public lands, and she became one of the last of Mr. Biden’s nominees to get a final Senate vote.
With her Senate confirmation, Ms. Haaland will join a White House that has made addressing the consequences of climate change a priority. Mr. Biden is considering a range of actions, including raising pollution standards to speed a shift toward low-carbon energy, threatening the fossil-fuel industry.
Ms. Haaland said during her confirmation hearing that oil and gas production won’t come to an abrupt halt, and that she would defer to Mr. Biden and the law on policy issues.
Write to Timothy Puko at [email protected]
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Appeared in the March 16, 2021, print edition as ‘Haaland Is Confirmed for Interior in Historic Vote.’