Biden’s pick could further deplete, at least temporarily, the narrow majority Democrats maintain in the House. Biden has already selected several lawmakers from the chamber, including Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond and Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge, to serve in his administration.
The president-elect has been methodically filling the posts in his Cabinet, adding North Carolina environmental official Michael Regan as his nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, according to two people familiar with the selection process. Earlier this week, Biden introduced former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg as his transportation secretary, and he intends to make former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm his energy secretary.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made it clear Wednesday that Biden had her blessing to choose Haaland, saying she would make an “excellent choice” as interior secretary.
The speaker called the New Mexico congresswoman “one of the most respected and one of the best members of Congress” with whom she has served.
South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, the No. 3 Democrat in the House and a close Biden ally, also supported Haaland for the job.
Haaland, one of the first two Native American women elected to the House, said she could see the difference her position made for ordinary Native Americans who came to her with business before the federal government.
“They felt comfortable just launching into the issues they wanted,” Haaland told The Associated Press in an interview before her appointment. They would say, for example, “Oh, we don’t have to explain tribal sovereignty to you,” meaning tribes’ constitutionally guaranteed status as independent nations.
Scores of tribal officials around the country and dozens of Democrats had written letters urging Haaland’s appointment.
Haaland is vice chair of the House Committee for Natural Resources. She previously worked as head of New Mexico’s Democratic Party, as tribal administrator and as an administrator for an organization providing services for adults with developmental disabilities.
Born to a Marine veteran father and Navy veteran mother, Haaland describes herself as a single mother who sometimes had to rely on food stamps. She says she is still paying off student loans after college and law school for herself and college for her daughter.
When Democrats mentioned former Interior Department officials who were male and Native American as alternatives to Haaland, her supporters charged sexism and classism, and stuck with the New Mexico Democrat.
Haaland told the AP before her selection that regardless of what job she had, she’d be working to “promote clean energy and protect our public lands.”
The Interior Department’s broad authority includes managing federal relations with tribes, administering tens of millions of acres of land and mineral rights held in trust for Native Americans and Alaska Natives, running national parks and making decisions affecting millions of miles of U.S. lands and waterways, wildlife, endangered species, and oil and gas and mining.
Biden has promised the nation’s broadest effort yet to curb the oil, gas and coal emissions that are causing the rapid deterioration of the climate, and Interior would play an important part in that.