Politics

Republicans sharply question Haaland at second day of confirmation hearing

The Democratic congresswoman from New Mexico, who would be the first Native American Cabinet secretary if confirmed by the Senate, pledged to work in service of the Biden administration during the first day of the hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday. But Republicans on the panel expressed concern over her nomination and described her views on public land use and fossil fuels as radical.

During the second day of hearings, Haaland argued that her role as interior secretary would be very different from her role as an elected member of the House of Representatives.

“The role of a congresswoman in one district in the country is much different than the role of a secretary who is fighting and working for every single American and all of our public lands across the country. Those are two different things, I recognize that,” Haaland said.

The statement from the nominee came after Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the ranking Republican member on the committee, confronted Haaland over past statements she has made, including that she is “wholeheartedly against fracking and drilling on public lands.” After Barrasso brought up the past comments, he said the committee wants to know how Haaland would advise Biden as President if confirmed.

GOP Sen. Steve Daines of Montana expressed skepticism over Haaland’s argument that she would make a distinction between the different roles — arguing that positions she has taken as a congresswoman would impact Americans outside of her district.

“Some of your prior positions you’ve taken,” he said, “clearly impacts more people than just your constituents. So I’m not convinced that you’ll be taking that view forward because you’ve certainly been taking some very strong positions that clearly impact folks outside the first district of New Mexico.”

Republicans have repeatedly argued that the Biden administration is going to kill jobs through its clean energy agenda, which Haaland supports. If confirmed, Haaland would be part of Biden’s plan to tackle the climate crisis and reduce carbon emissions.

In her opening statement, Haaland attempted to strike a delicate balance on energy and environmental policy, saying, “There’s no question that fossil energy does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come.” But she added, “Our climate challenge must be addressed,” and she contended that “the Department has a role in harnessing the clean energy potential of our public lands to create jobs and new economic opportunities.”

Barrasso of Wyoming said Tuesday that he feels “troubled” by some of Haaland’s positions on climate and energy issues, while Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana said he is “concerned” about proceeding with the nomination.

In one contentious exchange Tuesday, Barrasso asked Haaland to answer for a tweet from October 2020 in which she said that Republicans don’t believe in science. The GOP senator pointed out that he and several other Republican members of the committee are medical doctors and called the remark “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.

Haaland also repeatedly declined to give her personal opinions in the face of pointed questions from Republican senators during the hearing, saying instead that she would carry out Biden’s agenda.

When Daines asked Haaland if she supports a ban on fracking and no new pipelines, she replied, “President Biden does not support a ban on fracking is my understanding.” When the GOP senator pressed again, Haaland said, “If I am confirmed as secretary, I would be serving at the pleasure of the President and it would be his agenda that I would move forward.”

During Wednesday’s hearing, Republican Sen. James Risch of Idaho repeatedly pressed Haaland on whether she supports the Biden administration’s decision to shut down the Keystone XL pipeline. Haaland first responded by saying she supports Biden’s decision to revoke the pipeline’s permit.

“I feel very confident that the President, his decision — I mean I have to respect it, sir. He is the President of the United States,” Haaland replied.

Risch followed up several times asking directly if she supports shutting down the pipeline. Haaland finally answered, “Senator, if I say that I support President Biden’s agenda, I assume that you could take my answer as a yes.”

Moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, the chairman of the committee, has not yet said if he will vote to confirm Haaland.

Manchin did not tip his hand during Tuesday’s hearing, saying that he believes a president deserves “wide latitude” in the selection of his Cabinet nominees, but added, “I also take the Senate’s constitutional obligation to advise and consent to the President’s nomination seriously.”

This story and headline have been updated Wednesday with additional developments.

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