U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper expressed support for Deb Haaland’s nomination to secretary of the Interior Department during her confirmation hearing Tuesday with the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
Haaland currently represents the 1st Congressional District in New Mexico in the U.S. House of Representatives. If confirmed, she would be the first Native American Cabinet secretary and among many other diverse firsts in President Joe Biden’s proposed Cabinet.
“If an Indigenous woman from humble beginnings can be confirmed as secretary of the Interior, our country holds promise for everyone,” Haaland said in her opening statement.
Haaland also talked about how her personal experiences gave her an appreciation for nature at a young age and uniquely positioned her to succeed as secretary of the Interior. She said she will work with Democrats and Republicans alike as secretary.
“I believe we all have a stake in the future of our country and believe that every one of us, Republicans, Democrats and independents shares a common bond: Our love for the outdoors and a desire and obligation to keep our nation livable for future generations,” Haaland said.
Haaland invited her House Republican colleague Don Young, R-Alaska, to introduce her. He described her as a “friend” and advocated for her nomination on behalf of her record of bipartisanship with Congressional legislation.
“I urge the confirmation of Deb for the secretary of Interior,” he said.
Despite Young’s endorsement, Haaland faced an aggressive two hours of questioning and criticism from Republican senators on the committee. Many senators raised issues with her past statements about pipelines, fossil fuels and public lands policy, including U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who said Haaland’s stated beliefs about policies are “squarely at odds” with the mission of the Interior Department.
Republicans on the committee also frequently brought up Biden’s executive order that placed a moratorium on new leases for gas and oil development on public lands and cited job losses in their states.
Despite Republican pushback against her statements, Haaland reminded the senators that, as his secretary of the Interior, she would be pushing for Biden’s agenda, not her own. She also consistently leaned on her track record of “reaching across the aisle” and introducing bipartisan legislation when answering questions and concerns from Republican senators on the committee.
“I was the most bipartisan freshman in my first term in Congress,” Haaland said during the hearing. “That’s because I came here to get work done.”
Hickenlooper, D-Colo., the last senator to question Haaland, asked about Colorado-specific issues, including the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, a bill reintroduced by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., at the beginning of this congressional term. Last year, when the CORE Act was introduced, the Trump administration was against the bill and suffocated its chances at passing.
Tuesday was Hickenlooper’s first hearing as a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
Hickenlooper also brought up his support for keeping the Bureau of Land Management headquarters in Grand Junction. He said the past administration botched the move from Washington, D.C., to Colorado, but that keeping the headquarters in the West, particularly Colorado, would pose some benefits that have not been realized with a less than fully functioning headquarters.
“I hope there’s a path forward where we can find a solution that restores a fully functioning agency while allowing the BLM staff to work close to the lands they manage,” Hickenlooper said. “As you consider this important issue, I’m hoping you’ll commit to keeping an open dialogue and working with us Western senators.”
Haaland agreed with Hickenlooper’s stances on both the CORE Act and the BLM headquarters. She said she was disappointed the CORE Act was stifled during the last session of Congress and said the new administration endorses the bill.
“I’ll absolutely keep an open dialogue, and if you’re inviting me to Colorado, I gracefully accept,” Haaland said.
“That was my next question,” Hickenlooper said in reply. “We’d love to get you out to Grand Junction and let you see the BLM land out there, but also see the new headquarters and what it looks like.”
The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources invited Haaland to another hearing at 10 a.m. Wednesday for a second round of questioning.
Grace George is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a student at American University in Washington, D.C.