‘He became an easy target’: GOP opposition to Haaland irritates Native Americans

Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo, has been a sharp critic of fossil fuel development, a stance that has made it one of the most contentious of the Biden election. And he may also face tough challenge from Democratic chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Joe Manchin, who is the most pro-fossil-fuel Democrat whose opposition may have sunk another Biden nominee, Neera Tanden.

Haaland has been a rising star among progressives since his election to Congress in 2018.. He grew up in poverty, and his official disclosures show that he is still paying off the loans for the University of New Mexico law degree he earned in 2006. He served on former President Barack Obama’s campaign in the state in 2012 and later ran the Party. State Democrat. , where he was credited with fixing his finances and rebuilding it after electoral losses.

Leading the Republican opposition to his appointment are Senators Steve Daines of Montana and John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, white legislators from states with large American Indian populations. Lummis criticized Haaland’s “extreme views”, while Daines and Barrasso called her “radical.” and Daines suggested that he would try to block his nomination entirely.

All three have cited their opposition to the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, projects over which she would have little influence if she became Secretary of the Interior. (Biden has already blocked the Keystone XL pipeline.) And they have criticized Biden’s early executive action that paused new leases for oil and gas drilling on federal land and waters, which contribute about 20 percent of US production.

But several Native Americans told POLITICO that the senators’ harsh criticism of Haaland, before she had a chance to address her concerns, reminds them of the stereotypes and disdain that tribes have long experienced in their dealings with him. U.S. government.

Montana Democrat Representative Tyson Running Wolf, a member of the Blackfeet Nation, called the Republican opposition a “political ploy” familiar to Native Americans who have entered politics, where there is a “preconceived notion from others that you are a 25-30 percent. ” dumber “.

“It’s wrong that they didn’t give him a chance,” Running Wolf said. “Let him bring in some of those homegrown Native American values ​​that he has grown up with and established from home, and bring them in and wow people. And then their work is evaluated. “

Both Morigeau and Running Wolf signed a letter from the Montana American Indian Caucus urging Daines and Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) To reconsider their opposition to Haaland’s nomination.

Several tribal members said that young people in their communities regard Haaland and her partner, Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), Who made history in 2018 as the first Native American women elected to Congress, as heroes who helped give indigenous groups a seat in Congress. table in government decisions.

And they said the thoughtful opposition of the Republican Party is impossible to separate from the actions of the federal government for many generations that marginalized and isolated tribal communities.

Joye Braun, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota who attended the demonstrations against the Keystone XL pipeline, said she thought that Daines, Barrasso and Lummis were primarily opposed to Haaland in an attempt to defend the oil industries, gas and coal in their states. . But he also said that he felt a more unpleasant feeling behind his comments.

“I’m not surprised they are attacking her,” Braune said in an email.

In response to criticism from the tribes, Daines spokeswoman Katie Schoettler said her opposition to her nomination has nothing to do with her indigenous origin and came after meeting with her face to face.

“Senator Daines is proud to have a strong relationship with the Montana tribes and will continue to work on issues important to the Indian country,” he said in an email. “It’s about the radical views of the congresswoman who are completely out of touch with Montana and the nation. The congresswoman is ranked among the ten most liberal members of Congress. His anti-energy, job-destroying views threaten Montana’s jobs, public access to public lands, outdoor recreation, and our energy independence. “

A Lummis aide said, “Senator Lummis opposes Representative Haaland for one reason and one reason only: her radical statements and positions on land and energy issues,” while Barrasso’s office did not respond to request for comment. .

Another Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota, said in a statement that Haaland would also have a difficult time winning their support. Other Republican lawmakers on the committee declined to comment on Haaland’s nomination.

“We are concerned about Representative Haaland’s track record in energy development,” Hoeven said. “That includes opposition to major energy infrastructure like pipelines, as well as their support for policies like the Green New Deal, which raise prices for consumers while increasing our dependence on foreign energy sources. We plan to raise these concerns with you during your confirmation hearing and, ultimately, we need your strong commitment to ensure that taxpayers can benefit from our abundant energy reserves on our federal lands. “

After a week-long delay in scheduling Haaland’s hearing, the committee set a February 23 date to consider her selection. Hundreds of groups, including tribal representatives and environmental justice advocates, have he urged Senate leaders for a “quick confirmation” of Haaland in a letter.

Not all Republicans have opposed Haaland’s nomination. Representative Don Young of Alaska and Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a State with a significant indigenous population, expressed its support for it in comments for a November article in the POLITICO Magazine.

But senators, not members of the House, have the power to delay their nomination. And Native American groups have said that the vehemence of the senator’s complaints against Halaand, a current member of the House of Representatives and the daughter of a Navy veteran, sounds to them like the kind of prejudice they have experienced for decades in politics. U.S.

Other critics said Senate Republicans are making Haaland a scapegoat in a power struggle against Biden’s first executive orders revoking a necessary permit for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and prioritizing clean energy projects. Haaland, the former vice chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, had backed bills that would have used federal land to expand power transmission grids that could connect wind and solar farms to wider markets.

Barrasso, Daines and Lummis received a total of $ 1.8 million in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry in the last election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign finance.

Seeing a nominee to lead Interior who has a different background than previous agency heads and is opposed to the priorities of the oil and gas industry can trigger anguish for Republicans, said Julia Bernal, director of the Pueblo Action Alliance and member of Sandia Pueblo in New Mexico. There have been Hispanic men and white women who served as secretaries, but Haaland is an innovative choice as a Native American woman.

Haaland “is going to change the world view of how we will manage water, land and natural resources in the future,” Bernal said. “The change is puzzling for some people. It is a paradigm shift. The way we have been misusing resources and mismanaging the land has resulted in a climate crisis. Seeing a change in who has that power, if that threatens oil and gas interests, definitely reveals what’s wrong with things. “

Haaland’s supporters say the senators’ focus on his past endorsement of renewables and criticism of oil and gas projects ignore what his Interior leadership would mean for a country that for much of its history made the murder and exile of Native Americans were official government policy.

“The senators are probably listening too much to their benefactors and they are probably afraid of Deb Haaland,” Chamber Natural Resources President Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) Told POLITICO. “Interior was created in many ways to solve the Indian problem, be it through land grabbing, through near-elimination of people, culture, or forced assimilation. [It’s] close the circle and you will have an indigenous person directing the department. I think that as a country we should see that moment as a redemptive moment. “

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