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First Native American cabinet secretary confirmed

The Senate confirms Deb Haaland as Secretary of the Interior with a 51-40 vote.
Published: Mar. 15, 2021 at 4:16 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - The Senate voted to confirm New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland as the next Interior Secretary Monday. The final vote was 51-40.

It’s a historic confirmation. Deb Haaland is the first Native American to be a cabinet secretary. She is a 35th generation New Mexican and a member of the Pueblo of Laguna tribe.

Fellow New Mexican, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D), said he is confident Haaland is up to the task of protecting the nation’s land, water, and wildlife.

“Congresswoman Haaland knows firsthand how the decisions we make here affect communities across the country especially in rural western states,” Heinrich said.

But Republican Senators in fossil-fuel rich states are skeptical. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) pressed Haaland during the confirmation hearing on her plans to follow through on President Biden’s climate change agenda. He said he is worried she will crush oil and natural gas jobs in the process.

“You had said you will work your heart out for everyone including fossil fuel workers. My question for you is why not let these fossil fuel workers keep their jobs?” said Barrasso.

Throughout the confirmation hearing, Haaland repeatedly promised to help create millions of clean energy jobs over the next four years.

Outside of Congress, groups like the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona hope Haaland will be an advocate for water rights and access issues across Indian Country as the pandemic has increased urgency for clean water.

“This is truly a historic moment for us,” said Maria Dadgar, Executive Director of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona. “We’re behind her 100 percent.”

Haaland will oversee over 480 million acres of public lands, and agencies like the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The Aspen Institute’s Greg Gershuny, who worked closely with the Interior Department under President Obama, said despite Democratic control of Congress, Haaland will have an uphill battle moving policies forward.

“The couple of Senators in both parties sitting in the middle will make big leaps of progress really hard to do,” said Gershuny.

About a dozen candidates have already announced plans to seek Haaland’s vacant congressional seat.

No date has been set for a special election.

Currently, New Mexico law requires the Secretary of State to call for a special election to fill Haaland’s vacant seat. But a bill making its way through the New Mexico legislature would create a primary election for her seat instead.

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