Dec 16, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Nancy Pelosi's Interior play

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Nancy Pelosi's public endorsement of Rep. Deb Haaland to be Interior secretary alleviates pressure on the House speaker from Native American groups — and throws it right back on Biden to put the New Mexico Democrat in his Cabinet.

Why it matters: The president-elect has been casting about to find an Interior secretary he both desires and adds diversity to a Cabinet he's pledged will resemble the American people. The Democrats' fear about losing their slim majority in the House had given him a reason not to pick Haaland, despite her wide tribal backing.

The big picture: Biden has already made history with his Cabinet picks by nominating the first openly gay American (Pete Buttigieg), the first female Treasury secretary (Janet Yellen) and the first Black secretary of Defense (Lloyd Austin).

  • If Biden does settle on Haaland, she would be the first Native American to join the Cabinet. She would also be his point person in tribal negotiations. Native Americans are celebrating their large turnout of Biden's behalf.
  • The Department of the Interior oversees millions of acres of land, including Native reservations, and would be responsible, in large part, for the country's nearly 2 million Indigenous people.

Go deeper: Some of Haaland’s allies thought Pelosi’s supposed objection to losing any more House members was the last hurdle for Haaland to clear, according to two people familiar with the matter.

  • Pelosi is looking at a four-seat margin when the new Congress convenes on Jan. 3, 2021.
  • That number will drop by two with the expected resignations of Reps. Marcia Fudge and Cedric Richmond, both of whom have been tapped to serve in the Biden Administration.
  • Tribal leaders and progressive activists spent most of today engaging with Pelosi’s team, trying to convince her that they could "do this in a way that protects your majority and protects your speakership," one source involved in the discussions told Axios.
  • In New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, which Haaland represents, Democrats have been winning by more than 20 points.

What they are saying: “Congresswoman Haaland knows the territory, and if she is the President-elect’s choice for Interior secretary, then he will have made an excellent choice,” Pelosi said in a statement.

Be smart: Haaland could still vote for Pelosi for speaker and stick around for the first few weeks of the new Congress before she’s confirmed and sworn into the Cabinet.

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