With Biden behind confirmations, senators are overloaded with hearings

WASHINGTON – President Biden’s cabinet moved for its late completion on Tuesday with the confirmation of a United Nations ambassador and a secretary of agriculture, but other important positions remained locked in partisan confirmation hearings.

The race to question potential Cabinet officials led to overlapping hearings throughout the morning, as Democrats worked to fill key positions that most of Biden’s predecessors had held long before their first terms.

The Senate voted to confirm Linda Thomas-Greenfield as UN Ambassador and Thomas J. Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture. Both Mrs. Thomas-Greenfield and Mr. Vilsack were confirmed by comfortable margins, with Mr. Vilsack clearing 92 to 7 to become the secretary of agriculture for the second time.

Earlier in the day, the Senate Judiciary Committee wrapped up a second day of questioning Biden’s attorney general candidate Merrick B. Garland. Garland’s audience was again predominantly civil and forthright, and members of both parties continued to adopt the same deferential tone they set in praising his ratings on Monday.

The atmosphere was less relaxed in other committee rooms.

New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland, selected by Biden for secretary of the Interior, faced a litany of questions about the fierce stance she has taken in the past against fossil fuels, particularly by senators from states still dependent on the extraction of fossil fuels.

Among them, Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, has resisted efforts to reduce coal production in his state and whose vote may be crucial to Haaland’s chances of confirmation. .

Democrats emphasized the historic nature of his nomination, one that Manchin recognized. If confirmed, Ms. Haaland would be the first Native American to head a cabinet-level department, in this case the Department of the Interior, which has abused and neglected Native Americans for much of the nation’s history.

Ms. Haaland tried to downplay her past activism, promising to follow the political priorities of the Biden administration.

“If I am confirmed as secretary, it is President Biden’s agenda, not my own agenda, that would move forward,” he said.

She will appear before the committee for a second day on Wednesday.

Tuesday also marked the first of two challenging confirmation hearings for Xavier Becerra, the California attorney general and Biden’s candidate for secretary of health and human services.

In a contentious challenge, Republican members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions sought to portray Mr. Becerra, who has little experience in public health, as unqualified, while painting his positions on abortion and health care as radical.

Becerra, who will lead an extensive coronavirus vaccination effort if confirmed, said he sought to focus on the country’s most immediate challenges stemming from the pandemic and find opportunities to engage with more politicized health policies.

“When it comes to these issues, I understand that we may not always agree on where to go,” he said, “but I think we can find some common ground.”

Becerra will face another round of questions from the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the Finance Committee also called a confirmation hearing for Adewale O. Adeyemo, the choice of Biden to serve as undersecretary of the Treasury.

The steady pace of hearings helped make up for lost time for senators who spent six days this month fully focused on the impeachment of former President Donald J. Trump.

It also cleared the way for senators to consider even more nominees this week. On Wednesday, senators will take on the nomination of William J. Burns to head the Central Intelligence Agency, and on Thursday they will turn to the nomination of Katherine C. Tai to serve as the United States trade representative.

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