Dec 17, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Biden picks Rep. Deb Haaland to lead Interior Department in historic first

Congresswoman Deb Haaland of New Mexico has been tapped to lead the Interior Department. Photo: BONNIE CASH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden will name Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) as Interior secretary, according to a source with direct knowledge of the decision, a history-making move that also will test Biden's resolve on energy policy.

Why it matters: Haaland, 60, would be the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary, leading the department that oversees the federal government's relationship with 567 federally recognized tribes and 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives.

  • It's a political victory for progressives, who have spent weeks lobbying for Haaland. But it could give House Speaker Nancy Pelosi an even narrower House majority in the near-term.
  • Haaland was one of the two first Native American women elected to Congress, in the 2018 midterms.
  • The Washington Post was the first to report on Biden's decision.

Driving the news: Pelosi said in a statement Wednesday that Biden "will have made an excellent choice” if he picks Haaland for Interior.

  • Two sources familiar told Axios that Pelosi was the last "hurdle" to clear to get Haaland the green light.
  • Tribal leaders and progressive activists spent most of Wednesday engaging with Pelosi's team and arguing this could be done "in a way that protects your majority and protects your speakership," one source involved in the discussions told Axios.
  • Haaland represents a district that Democrats control by wide margins, and she can remain in her seat until confirmation. Her seat could be filled faster than seats held by Reps. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) and Cedric Richmond (D-La.), who've already been tapped to serve in the incoming administration.

What we're hearing: One person familiar with the discussions said progressive groups and tribal leaders had been talking with Pelosi's team about "how to stagger appointments and talk to governors to make sure we do this in a way that doesn't create disorder."

  • Making something historic happen was among the strongest arguments to winning over Pelosi, another source said.

What to watch: Haaland's allies believe she'd have no problem getting confirmed, pointing to Republican colleagues like Reps. Tom Cole and Don Young who've been publicly supportive of her landing this role.

The big picture: The Interior Department, which oversees vast swaths of public lands and waters, will play an important role implementing Biden's energy plans, Axios' Ben Geman notes.

  • Biden's platform calls for banning new oil and natural gas drilling permits on federal lands, but it's not clear how that will work in practice.
  • It also envisions greater use of those areas for renewable power development, including offshore wind.
  • Haaland will face some tricky challenges. One is Biden's vow to block drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Trump's Interior is planning to sell drilling rights in its closing days. But there are several levers the Biden administration can pull to slow or thwart the years-long development process.

What they're saying: "A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior," Haaland said in a tweet. "Growing up in my mother’s Pueblo household made me fierce. I’ll be fierce for all of us, our planet, and all of our protected land. I am honored and ready to serve."

  • "I'm over the moon right now," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said in response to the news of Haaland's nomination. "I think the Biden climate appointments, they represent progress..."
  • "Congresswoman Haaland would not just represent the first Native woman in charge of federal lands, but she brings a philosophy of both a commitment on climate and justice and the historic weight of having a Native woman, no less a progressive one, in charge of federal lands, is pretty enormous."
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