Biden facing pressure to pick Congresswoman Deb Haaland as Interior Secretary

As President-elect Joe Biden has begun rolling out his Cabinet officials, he is facing pressure to choose Congresswoman Deb Haaland as his Interior Secretary. Haaland, one of the first Native American women elected to Congress, would be the first indigenous person to serve as secretary of the Interior Department.

Some of Haaland’s greatest support comes from prominent tribal leaders. Members of the Biden transition team spoke with several tribal leaders and organizers in a Zoom call on Thursday afternoon. A source who was on the call told CBS News that the transition team officials steered clear of talking about the Interior Department, and said they would not be able to talk about any personnel decisions.

The source said the transition team asked participants in the call to submit questions via email beforehand, and then chose which issues to address on the call. Although none of the questions accepted by the Biden team mentioned Haaland, a participant of the call, wrote in the chat function on Zoom that they had been disappointed in leaks in news articles from anonymous sources close to Mr. Biden casting doubt on the congresswoman’s experience. This participant wrote the leaks were damaging to Haaland, and the views of Indian Country should be respected.

A November article in The New York Times said Haaland’s “lack of policy experience worries some Biden advisers,” and “some people advising Mr. Biden are concerned about management at one of the federal government’s most sprawling agencies.” A second New York Times piece from last week said “many of Mr. Biden’s advisers fear that she lacks the experience to manage the sprawling complex agency.”

But tribal leaders say Haaland’s experience living in Indian Country offers her a unique perspective, and cite her experience as a congresswoman, longtime advocacy regarding climate change and experience as an organizer.

Throughout the transition, the team has met with dozens of Tribal leaders, Councils and organizations representing Indian Country, and will continue to hold meetings in the weeks ahead to engage the 574 federally recognized tribes.   

Around 150 tribal leaders sent a letter last week to Mr. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris requesting the president-elect choose Haaland as his nominee.

“As the leaders of sovereign tribal nations, we believe it is long past time that a Native American person serve as Secretary of the Interior. Further, we believe that Congresswoman Deb Haaland is ready to serve as Secretary,” the letter said, a copy of which was obtained by CBS News. “Representative Haaland has championed the environment, helped lead efforts to address climate change, and worked to improve the nation-to-nation relationship between our Tribes and the United States – all issues within the Department of the Interior’s responsibilities.”

The interior department oversees public lands, national parks, wildlife refuges and millions of acres of tribal lands. The letter noted that Haaland opposed several Trump administration policies such as his work to roll back environmental regulation and open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling.

“The Biden-Harris Administration can build back better by appointing the first Native American as Secretary of the Interior,” the letter by tribal leaders said, quoting one of Mr. Biden’s campaign slogans.

On Thursday, a group of over 100 women, including tribal organizers and progressive leaders, sent a letter to Mr. Biden urging him to choose Haaland.

“We believe it is critical at this time for the first Native American to serve in the President’s Cabinet, so we can begin to shift the focus back to caring for future generations and returning to a value system that honors Mother Earth. We believe that person is Congresswoman Deb Haaland,” the letter said.

Dozens of House Democrats have also called on Mr. Biden to choose Haaland.

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