President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Interior Department on Thursday survived a debate and procedural vote forced partly by Montana Sen. Steve Daines in a long-shot attempt to thwart the nomination. 

Earlier this week, Daines and Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyoming, put a “hold” on Biden’s nomination of Rep. Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico, forcing Thursday’s debate and vote to forward the nomination. On Thursday, senators voted 54-42 after debate to continue with the nomination, signaling Haaland’s likely confirmation as early as Monday.

Daines, Lummis and many other Republican senators

Many Republicans have objected to Haaland’s nomination, citing her previous statements on issues like grizzly bear management and fossil fuel development, which they say indicate unacceptable consequences for states that rely on natural resource extraction or have large swaths of public lands. Those fears have been amplified by Biden actions, like cancelling a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, they say signal a hostile stance toward those industries. 

Congresswoman Deb Haaland, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for the Interior Secretary, speaks after Biden announced her nomination among another round of nominees and appointees for his administration in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., December 19, 2020. Credit: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

“Unfortunately, Rep. Haaland has a very well-documented and hostile record toward made-in-American energy, toward natural resource development, toward wildlife management and sportsmen,” Daines said in a seven-minute speech calling for senators to reject the nomination. 

Montana’s other senator, Democrat Jon Tester, voted to reject Daine’s hold attempt and has said he plans to vote to confirm Haaland. Haaland needs a simple 51-vote majority to be confirmed. 

If confirmed, Haaland, a citizen of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, would become the first Indigenous cabinet secretary. She would lead a sprawling agency that oversees much of the country’s public lands and is also responsible for maintaining the federal government’s dealings with tribal nations. 

Supporters have said she would effectively balance the need for continued fossil fuel development on federal lands with Biden’s emission-reduction goals and protection of public lands for future generations. She would also improve the government’s relationship with tribes, supporters said.

“We’ve got a nominee who is qualified, she’s fair … and she is going to make history,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, said during Thursday’s debate. “It is long, long, long past time, colleagues, that this country had a Native American leading the Interior Department.”

latest stories

Making the case for public pre-K

Another legislative defeat this spring left Montana with the dubious title of a “preschool desert.” Yet advocates of early childhood education continue to argue the case for a state-funded public preschool model using data gleaned from recent pilot programs.

Chris covers Native American issues as a Report for America Corps member based in Billings. He also monitors the Montana Supreme Court, federal courts and criminal justice issues. Before joining MTFP in 2020, Chris most recently covered tribal affairs and Wyoming's Wind River Reservation for the Casper Star-Tribune, and has also reported for the Wisconsin State Journal. Contact Chris at caadland@montanafreepress.org, 406-465-3386 ext. 4, and follow @cjaadland on Twitter.