Senator Joe Manchin III, the Democrat from West Virginia who heads the Senate Energy Committee, announced Wednesday that he would vote to confirm Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico as head of the Department of the Interior.
Mr Manchin’s vote could be crucial for Ms Haaland’s confirmation, as Republicans stepped up attacks on the former environmental activist this week, signaling that the vote to confirm her could go back to party lines.
If confirmed, Ms Haaland would go down in history as the first Native American to head an agency within the firm. She would also play a central role in advancing President Biden’s climate change agenda, as the head of an agency that oversees more than 500 million acres of public land, including national parks, sites of oil and gas drilling and habitat for endangered species. And she would be accused of enacting one of Mr. Biden’s most controversial proposals: a ban on future leases to perform hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for oil and gas on public lands.
But his appointment has come under fire as Republicans have expressed concerns over his history of pushing the shutdown of fossil fuel drilling and pipelines – positions that go beyond those of Mr Biden.
The Republican National Committee sent an email on Tuesday urging senators to vote against Ms Haaland, writing: “In appointing Haaland, Biden is embracing far-left special interest groups who don’t care about the jobs they destroy, do not know the real impacts. their policies, and have no answer on when they can get Americans back to work. “
If Republicans unite against Ms Haaland, she will need the support of all Democrats in the equally divided Senate, which would allow Vice President Kamala Harris to vote in a split between parties. So far, the vote of Mr Manchin, who heads the Senate energy panel but has often voted with Republicans on energy policy issues, has remained uncertain. Mr Manchin, whose home state of West Virginia relies heavily on coal mining, has expressed concern over Mr Biden’s plans to limit exploration for fossil fuels.
Mr Manchin’s announcement of his intention to vote for Ms Haaland also underlines the crucial role he will play in the success or failure of the president’s legislative agenda. (He has previously said he would vote against another of Mr Biden’s candidates, Neera Tanden, who has been appointed to head the Bureau of Management and Budget, casting doubt on his prospects for confirmation.)
In a statement, Mr Manchin said: “Given the political divisions our country currently faces, I believe that every presidential candidate and every member of Congress must embark on a new era of bipartisanship. It is the standard that the overwhelming majority of Americans expect and deserve. “
Regarding Ms. Haaland, he added, “although we do not agree on all issues, she reaffirmed her strong commitment to bipartisanship, responding to the diverse needs of our country and maintaining the energy independence of our nation.
Appearing before the Senate Energy Committee on Wednesday for her second day of confirmation hearings, Ms Haaland faced stiff criticism from Republicans in the oil state, who made it clear they would not support her not.
Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the Energy Panel’s ranking Republican, highlighted remarks Ms. Haaland made in 2018 as she campaigned to phase out oil and gas production in New Mexico, and a proposed to legalize and tax cannabis as a way to compensate for lost state revenue.
“Is the sale of marijuana part of what the Biden administration calls the ‘best choices’ the Biden administration has promised to give to displaced oil and gas workers?” Asked Mr. Barrasso. He added: “Your preference is to turn to drugs – this is what you recommended to voters – at a time when we know unemployment is high and energy workers are losing their jobs.”
Ms Haaland responded that the proposal was to signal that she wanted to “diversify the sources of income for education,” and added, “I don’t know what President Biden’s position is on marijuana.”
Ms. Haaland has repeatedly told senators that, in her role as head of a federal agency, she would carry out the president’s agenda, rather than asserting her personal views.
“If I am confirmed as secretary, it is a very different role than that of an MP representing a small district in my state,” she said. “So I understand that role: it’s to serve all Americans, not just my one district in New Mexico.