Top Democrats in the House, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, publicly expressed support on Wednesday for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. to choose Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico as interior secretary, rebuffing criticism that they were standing in the way of her appointment over concerns about the party’s slim majority in their chamber.
For weeks, rank-and-file House Democrats, progressive groups and tribal leaders have been pushing for Mr. Biden to select Ms. Haaland, who would be the first Native American to lead the Interior Department, and have grown frustrated over the belief that Democratic leadership might be blocking her.
“Congresswoman Deb Haaland is one of the most respected and one of the best members of Congress I have served with,” Ms. Pelosi said in a statement. “I am so proud that, as one of the first Native American women to have served in Congress, she serves as chair of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. Congresswoman Haaland knows the territory, and if she is the president-elect’s choice for Interior Secretary, then he will have made an excellent choice.”
Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, also said on Wednesday that he supported Ms. Haaland for the job.
Mr. Hoyer had publicly raised concerns that selecting House members for the cabinet could weaken Democrats’ narrow majority in the chamber, telling reporters last week that he had counseled the Biden administration against choosing more House Democrats for posts. Mr. Biden has already tapped Representative Cedric Richmond of Louisiana as director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and Representative Marcia Fudge of Ohio for secretary of Housing and Urban Development. “Two is a lot,” Mr. Hoyer said, “Two is too many.”
But on Wednesday, Mr. Hoyer insisted he had never advised the Biden transition team not to pick Ms. Haaland specifically.
“I am a very close and dear friend of Deb Haaland’s,” he told reporters. “I think she is a wonderful, smart, effective leader, and I think she would be excellent. If the administration chooses her to be the secretary of the Interior, I think it would be historic and very appropriate.”
The majority leader reiterated his general concerns, though. “What I said shortly after the election was the margin was very close, and I thought it would be difficult if, in fact, members were selected,” he said.
House Republicans flipped at least 10 seats in the November election, weakening Democrats’ control of the chamber.
The Interior Department has 70,000 employees and is responsible for managing most of the land controlled by the federal government and administering programs concerning Native Americans.
Ms. Haaland’s supporters have asked another member of Congress under consideration for the post, Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, who is retiring after 12 years in the Senate, to pull out of contention.
“We are calling on you to continue to be a strong advocate for Indian Country, representation and progress by modeling what a true commitment to Native leadership and climate justice looks like by heeding the call of Native leaders and supporting Deb Haaland as Secretary of the Interior,” the progressive groups Sunrise Movement, NDN Collective, Justice Democrats, and Data for Progress wrote in a recent letter to Mr. Udall.
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