Senator Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.) said Wednesday that he will support the confirmation of Representative Deb Haaland (D., N.M) to become Interior secretary, likely paving the way for her to become the first Native American to lead a cabinet agency.
Manchin, a moderate Democrat who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, had previously been publicly undecided on whether to back Haaland’s nomination, with a spokesperson for the senator saying he still had “remaining questions” going into her confirmation hearing before the panel on Tuesday.
Manchin serves as a critical vote in the evenly divided Senate: He has opposed Neera Tanden’s nomination to serve as director of the Office of Management and Budget, imperiling her confirmation.
However, the West Virginia senator Manchin said he would back Haaland, though the two do not see eye-to-eye on drilling on federal lands or the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
“I believe Deb Haaland will be a secretary of the Interior for every American and will vote to confirm her,″ Manchin said in a statement. “While we do not agree on every issue, she reaffirmed her strong commitment to bipartisanship, addressing the diverse needs of our country and maintaining our nation’s energy independence.″
He noted that Haaland’s House colleagues from both parties, including Representative Don Young (R., Alaska), lauded Haaland’s bipartisan accomplishments and “sincere willingness to work collaboratively on important issues.”
Manchin also said he was satisfied by Haaland’s comments during her hearings that the Biden administration is committed to using fossil fuels “for years to come, even as we transition to a cleaner energy future through innovation, not elimination.”
However, Republicans have been less impressed by Haaland, saying her opposition to fracking, the Keystone XL pipeline and other issues make her unfit for the role.
In a hearing on Tuesday, she was questioned about a tweet from October 2020 in which she claimed that Republicans don’t believe in science.
Senator John Barrasso (R., Wyo.), the ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said that he and several other Republican members of the committee are medical doctors and he called the comment “concerning.”
“Do you think that as medical doctors we don’t believe in science? How do you stand by this statement?” Barrasso asked.
“Senator, yes, if you’re a doctor, I would assume that you believe in science,” Haaland replied.
She later dodged a question from Senator Bill Cassidy (R., La.) on whether she supported President Biden’s order to rescind the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, which Cassidy said was not in line with science. He pointed to a “State Department reported based upon science that says building the pipeline lowers greenhouse-gas emissions.”
She acknowledged that the pipeline has been “an issue” that “both sides [are] very passionate” about.
“With respect to President Biden’s decision, it is his decision, he’s the president,” she said.
Senator Steve Daines (R., Mont.) called Haaland “a hard-line ideologue with radical views out of touch with Montana and the West.” The pair had a tense exchange at her confirmation hearing over her earlier opposition to trapping on public lands and her support for continued federal protections for grizzly bears.
Daines asked why she had co-sponsored a bill to continue grizzly-bear protections “when the science tells us the bear numbers are well above the recovery targets” set by the Endangered Species Act.
“I imagine, at the time, I was caring about the bears,” Haaland said, later adding that she “would be happy to take a look at that issue.”