Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Opinion: Senate Republicans fear Deb Haaland but should fear alienating Native American voters more

If Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., is confirmed as interior secretary, she would be not only the first Native American in the role, but the first in any cabinet-level position. That matters because the Interior Department governs Native American affairs, writes Julian Brave NoiseCat for The Washington Post: "We have had many interior secretaries with close ties to powerful men in the C-suite and on Capitol Hill. But we have never had an interior secretary who tended to traditional gardens, cooked for pueblo feast days and stood with the Oceti Sakowin Nation at Standing Rock in defense of tribal treaty rights." NoiseCat is vice president of policy and strategy at Data for Progress and a fellow of the Type Media Center.

But Haaland, a registered member of the Laguna Pueblo, is facing a great deal of push-back from Senate Republicans because of her views on oil and gas mining and national parks. The contentious confirmation hearing for Haaland, now entering its second week, has become a battlefield on which Senate Democrats and Republicans fight a proxy war over fossil fuels policy, Oliver Milman and Nina Lakhani report for The Guardian.

Some of Haaland's biggest critics in the hearing are from states where fossil fuels are big business, NoiseCat writes, and notes that many have received large campaign contributions from the oil and gas industries. Though conservatives have portrayed her as an extremist in the hearing, "in 2019, she introduced the most bills with bipartisan support of all House freshmen," NoiseCat writes. "What Haaland actually brings — and what the Republican Party seems to consider so dangerous — are experiences and perspectives that have never found representation in the leadership of the executive branch. In fact, Republicans’ depiction of the first Native American ever nominated to the Cabinet as a 'radical' threat to a Western 'way of life' revealed something about the conservative id: a deep-seated fear that when the dispossessed finally attain a small measure of power, we will turn around and do to them what their governments and ancestors did to us."

NoiseCat cites examples where the Native American vote helped one party or another win recent elections, and writes that Republicans need Native American voters for future elections. But, he warns, if Republicans block Haaland, Native Americans will remember at the ballot box: "With moderate Democrat Joe Manchin III of West Virginia publicly backing Haaland, her path to confirmation is clear. It would be unwise for the GOP to stand athwart Indian country’s chance at history." 

Ultimately, Republicans' slow-walking of the nomination is unlikely to do them much good since the Interior "is already moving to lock in key parts of President Biden’s environmental agenda, particularly on oil and gas restrictions, laying the groundwork to fulfill some of the administration’s most consequential climate change promises," Lisa Friedman reports for The New York Times.

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