Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico is President Biden’s nominee for the position of Secretary of Interior.
She would be the third woman to serve in that role, and the first Native American — a fact particularly significant because the Department of Interior includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs is responsible for much of the relationship between the United States government and that of the country’s 574 tribal governments.
Interior also includes the Bureau of Indian Education and the Bureau of Trust Funds Administration, which manages more than $5 billion held in trust for Native Americans by the U.S. Government.
Sen. Steve Daines, who serves on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has threatened to “block her nomination,” in advance of Tuesday’s Senate hearing — something, as a Republican in the Democratic Party-controlled Senate, he probably does not have the power to do. He has questioned her qualifications to run the department that manages some 73 million acres of federal lands. He has been critical of her support of the Green New Deal legislation and her opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline, calling her positions “radical.”
In the process, he has offended many people in and outside of Montana’s tribal communities, who point to the deferential confirmation of Ryan Zinke as President Trump’s first Secretary of the Interior — someone who was certainly not more qualified than Haaland for the position at the outset of his tenure.
We understand Daines’ concerns, and realize they are shared by many who support continued oil and gas extraction on federal lands. But the stridency of his opposition, even before the hearing, gives us pause.
We wonder, for instance, if Daines’ former Senate colleague, Tom Udall of New Mexico, had been nominated instead, if we would have heard the same level of sharp opposition. Udall favors the Green New Deal. He opposes the Keystone XL Pipeline. Would Daines have denounced him as a “radical?”
We doubt it. We believe the vituperative nature of much of the GOP criticism is a dog-whistle reserved for a candidate of Haaland’s tribal status — and gender.
Further, we believe that anyone Biden nominated to Interior — or would nominate if Haaland’s nomination is rejected — would support his stated policies, which include all the “radical” things Daines objects to. Just as Trump was entitled to have a Secretary who was aligned with his policy preferences — like Zinke — so is Biden entitled to expect a Secretary of Interior who supports what he is trying to accomplish. In short, elections have consequences.
Deb Haaland is not a radical. She is a progressive. She is well-respected by many Republicans in Congress and in her home state. Her leadership of Interior would send a huge signal to the 10 percent of Daines’ constituents who are Native Americans — and to the rest of us as well. BIA’s management has in the past verged on genocidal toward Native Americans. Her assumption of this role would go a long way toward healing long-festering wounds.
We understand that Daines — and many of us in Montana — will not agree with every position Haaland supports. But she has shown an ability to work in bipartisan fashion, and she deserves a fair hearing.
We urge Sen. Daines to temper his remarks and give her just that.
— The Billings Gazette
The Billings Gazette Editorial Board consists of President and Publisher Dave Worstell, Regional Editor David McCumber and Chief Photographer Larry Mayer.