ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Asked why she wanted to become the next secretary of the Department of the Interior, Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., referenced the Navajo Code Talkers, saying the first piece of code the WWII soldiers used was the Navajo word for “Our mother” for United States.
“I feel very strongly that sums up what we’re dealing with,” Haaland said during the second day of her confirmation hearing.
“This is all of our country. This is our mother. You’ve heard the Earth referred to as Mother Earth. It’s difficult to not feel obligated to protect this land. And I feel every indigenous person in the country understands that…,” she continued. “It’s an obligation of mine that I take very seriously and that’s why I feel I would be honored to be confirmed and help President (Joe) Biden move this country forward.”
Haaland fielded questions Wednesday morning from senators on the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which is considering her nomination to be Cabinet secretary of the Department of the Interior.
The second day of the hearing came to a close without members taking a vote on Haaland’s nomination. The committee will need to vote to send her nomination to the full Senate, which will then give the final vote. If confirmed, she’ll become the first Native American Cabinet secretary in the country’s history.
Throughout her appearance, Haaland stressed that she would work to carry out Biden’s agenda, not her own. When asked about prior statements she’s made about environmental issues — such as saying she supports bans on fracking and animal trapping — she said that her role as a Congresswoman is different than the one she is poised to take. She said she’ll gather data and be guided by science when issues come across her desk.
“Being a secretary is far different from being a member of Congress,” she said.
Last month, President Biden issued an executive order to indefinitely pause all new leasing activity on public lands so the U.S. Department of the Interior can review leasing and permitting processes. Asked about that pause, Haaland said it won’t be permanent.
“The pause that President Biden has put on the new permits pending review, the review is not going to last forever,” Haaland said. “This pause is just that, a pause. It’s not going to be a permanent thing where we’re restricting all these lands.”
The New Mexico Democratic Party Chair Marg Elliston said after Wednesday’s hearing concluded that Haaland demonstrated over two days that she’s the right person for the position.
“It’s clear that she will continue to make New Mexicans proud as a voice for all those who cherish and value our nation’s natural resources,” she said in a statement.
However, Larry Behrens, Western states director of Power the Future, a group that has opposed renewable energy mandates, said in a statement after the hearing that Haaland appeared to be dodging questions.
“Deb Haaland has a long record of radical statements and actions, but for the last two days she would have us believe she doesn’t have a position on critical issues facing New Mexico and the rest of the nation,” he said. “Deb Haaland is pretending to be someone else during these hearings and it’s clear some of the Senators aren’t convinced.”