The Biden transition team is in the process of vetting Rep. Deb HaalandDebra HaalandOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump takes major step toward Alaska wildlife refuge drilling opposed by Biden | Grijalva backs Haaland for Interior Secretary | Obama alumni considered top picks for Biden Energy secretary Grijalva backs Haaland for Interior Secretary Deb Haaland says ‘of course’ she would serve as Interior secretary under Biden MORE (D-N.M.) for the Interior secretary post, sources told The Hill on Tuesday.
The development came after Haaland dropped out of the three-way leadership race for House Democratic Caucus vice chairwoman.
If Haaland is tapped by President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenTucker Carlson assures viewers his show ‘not going anywhere’ following presidential election Trump senior advisers dissuaded president from military strike on Iran: report Senators clash on the floor over wearing masks: ‘I don’t need your instruction’ MORE, her nomination would be historic, making her the first Native American Cabinet secretary, where she would oversee an agency with vast responsibility over tribal issues and public lands. In 2018, she became one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress, alongside Rep. Sharice DavidsSharice DavidsDeb Haaland says ‘of course’ she would serve as Interior secretary under Biden Reinvesting in American leadership Next Congress expected to have record diversity MORE (D-Kan.).
More than half of the president-elect’s transition team is comprised of women, and nearly half of its members are people of color; Biden has also vowed that his new Cabinet and administration will be very diverse and “look like America.”
Haaland, the former chairwoman of the New Mexico Democratic Party who just won reelection to the House, did not respond directly when asked why she suddenly dropped out of this week’s leadership race.
“We have an opportunity to unify our caucus, plan for the future, and support working families while we’re facing the challenges that have come from an administration who didn’t take this pandemic seriously,” Haaland said in a statement.
“I’ve deeply appreciated this process — discussing priorities, getting to better know my colleagues, and their districts and issues, and also answering questions about Indian Country. I look forward to continuing these conversations with a united caucus, laser-focused on healing and rebuilding our country,” she added.
Haaland, 59, has previously expressed interest in the role. In an interview with HuffPost last week, Haaland said “of course” she was interested in leading the Interior Department.
The Biden transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and it is not clear if it is also vetting other candidates. Other names being considered to lead the Interior Department include retiring Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump takes major step toward Alaska wildlife refuge drilling opposed by Biden | Grijalva backs Haaland for Interior Secretary | Obama alumni considered top picks for Biden Energy secretary Grijalva backs Haaland for Interior Secretary Senate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls MORE (D-N.M.), whose father was Interior secretary in the 1960s, and Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior shortlist puts focus on New Mexico lawmakers | Progressives criticize Biden transition over volunteer who represented Exxon | Trump DOJ appointees stalled investigation into Zinke: report Interior shortlist puts focus on New Mexico lawmakers, tribal issues Bottom line MORE (D-N.M.).
Udall’s office suggested he is still being weighed for the role but did not say whether he is also being vetted.
“Deb Haaland is a close personal friend and I’ve been proud to work with her in Congress and long before that. Senator Heinrich has been an incredible partner and friend in the Senate for the past eight years. Like so many New Mexicans, I’m excited about the vision of the incoming Biden-Harris administration and I am honored to be considered for an opportunity to continue my public service,” Udall said in a statement to The Hill.
Haaland, who chairs the House Natural Resources subcommittee that oversees national parks, forests, and public lands, got a nod Monday from full committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who had been endorsed for the Interior role by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC). Grijalva, a progressive leader, backed Haaland while asking fellow CHC members to do the same.
“It is well past time that an Indigenous person brings history full circle at the Department of Interior. As her colleague on the Natural Resources Committee, I have seen first-hand the passion and dedication she puts into these issues at the forefront of the Interior Department from tackling the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women to crafting thoughtful solutions to combating the climate crisis using America’s public lands,” Grijalva wrote in the letter obtained by The Hill.
“It should go without saying, Rep. Haaland is absolutely qualified to do the job,” he added.
Biden this week began naming top staffers who will serve in the White House, including chief of staff Ron Klain and Rep. Cedric RichmondCedric Levon RichmondRep. Cedric Richmond to join Biden administration Biden co-chair says wins in traditionally red states ‘will give him some coattails and some leverage’ with Congress Democrats accuse Kushner of ‘casual racism’ over comments about Black Americans MORE (D-La.), the Biden campaign’s national co-chairman, who will serve as a senior adviser to the 46th president and the director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.
Biden has yet to name any Cabinet members, though he could make some of those picks before Thanksgiving.
Updated: 5:51 p.m. EST