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Haaland Confirmed: How She Overcame Attacks from Oil-Backed Senators to Make History


March 16, 2021

Congresswoman Deb Haaland, President Biden’s nominee to run the Department of the Interior, was finally confirmed after attacks from senators backed by the oil and gas industry fell flat

Haaland’s confirmation is historic, becoming the first Native person to serve in a presidential Cabinet, and as Interior secretary she will oversee Bureau of Indian Affairs and millions of acres of tribal lands

Accountable Senate War Room: “Despite their name-calling and smear campaigns, aggressively hostile questioning, and attempted delays, [Senate Republicans’] attacks against Haaland fell flat because the American people could see through their real motives: scratching the backs of their Big Oil donors”

Washington, D.C. — Today, after being successfully confirmed as Secretary of the Interior in the Senate, Congresswoman Deb Haaland made history as the first Native person appointed to serve in a Presidential Cabinet. While this is a historic achievement for both Haaland and our country, her confirmation was an uphill battle. Haaland faced a barrage of mudslinging and false attacks from senators who have taken millions from the oil and gas industry. These attacks fell flat as senators on both sides of the aisle voted to confirm Haaland.

“From the outset, Republican senators set their sights on sinking Haaland’s confirmation, with the loudest voices of opposition coming from those working on behalf of their oil and gas donors,” said Mairead Lynn, spokesperson for Accountable Senate War Room. “Despite their name-calling and smear campaigns, aggressively hostile questioning, and attempted delays, their attacks against Haaland fell flat because the American people could see through their real motives: scratching the backs of their Big Oil donors. Our country is lucky to have a proven environmental leader like Haaland leading the Interior, who will advocate for the people, public lands, and tribal communities after four years of its catering to Big Oil and the fossil fuel industry.”

Accountable Senate War Room takes a look back at the obstruction Haaland faced as a reminder of just how far Senate Republicans are willing to go for their special interest donors:

Leading up to hearing:

• On Feb. 5, after meeting with Haaland, Daines released a statement signaling that he would not only oppose her confirmation, but would work to prevent her nomination from moving forward, calling her views “radical.”

• Following in Daines’ footsteps, John Barrasso, ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee, also signaled his opposition to Haaland in a statement, claiming “[Haaland’s] radical views are squarely at odds with the responsible management of our nation’s energy resources” threatening to oppose if she didn’t “demonstrate that she will follow the law.”

• Both Daines and Barrasso have taken nearly $1.2 million from the oil and gas industry, and Republicans on the ENR Committee have taken nearly $8.8 million collectively.

During the Hearing:

• Barrasso got hostile with Haaland and “shouted over” her, then accused the congresswoman of “wanting to legalize drugs to replace tax revenue from oil and gas,” and screamed “I’m talking about the law!” when he felt she wasn’t answering the question to his liking.

o Barrasso’s outburst and overall tone towards Haaland got national attention from those who noticed his attitude towards Haaland compared to white, male nominees.

• Daines repeatedly mentioned previous comments Haaland made about Republican senators believing in science and chided Haaland to “respect the science” in her role as Interior secretary.

• John Cassidy (R-LA) repeatedly badgered Haaland about her previous comments she made about Republican senators believing in science, and asked her “will your department be guided by a prejudice against fossil fuel or will it be guided by science?”

o Cassidy has taken over $1.6 million from the oil and gas industry.

• Mike Lee’s (R-UT) questioning of Haaland, referred to as a “lecture” by the Salt Lake Tribune, revolved around her thoughts on the designation of Bears Ears as a national monument. During his questioning, he repeatedly and aggressively cut the Congresswoman off, even while she was attempting to give the state of Utah a compliment.

o Lee has taken over $366,000 from the oil and gas industry.

• John Hoeven (R-ND) criticized Haaland for her past environmental advocacy relating to the Dakota Access Pipeline, ignoring the risks the project posed specifically to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, including oil leaking into the water supply and sacred lands.

o Hoeven has taken over $690,000 from the oil and gas industry.

The language used leading up to Haaland’s hearing was a clear signifier that Senate Republicans were going to make a coordinated effort to paint her as a “radical.” These efforts of course fell flat considering Haaland’s track record in the House as a bipartisan environmental leader. Ahead of her confirmation, she even gained the support of conservative members of Congress like Representative Don Young (R-AK). Senator Lisa Murkowski, also from the oil-rich state of Alaska, supported Haaland’s nomination in a decision the Washington Post described as choosing “history over oil and gas.”

With Big Oil-backed senators against her, Haaland’s confirmation was anything but a guarantee. Demonstrated in their months-long attacks and aggressive opposition to her confirmation, it boiled down to Republican Senators like Steve Daines and John Barrasso protecting their special interests in the oil and gas industry over protecting public lands. With Haaland at the helm of the Department of the Interior, our public lands and Native communities will finally get the advocate they deserve.

Accountable Senate War Room has been holding Senate Republicans accountable throughout Haaland’s confirmation process. Below are some examples of that work:

• Daines Favors Special Interests Over Montanans By Opposing Haaland for Interior Secretary [Feb. 8, 2021]

• ICYMI: HuffPost: Montana Senator Backed An Extremist At Interior But Rejects A Native American Woman [Feb. 9, 2021]

• As Millions in Texas Go Without Heat, Senator Daines Spreads Misinformation to Attack Interior Nominee Haaland [Feb. 16, 2021]

• New Research Highlights the Nearly $8.8M in Oil Contributions Fueling GOP Smears of Climate Champion Haaland [Feb. 22, 2021]

• Top Environmental Voices, Members of Congress Call Out GOP Senators For Putting Special Interests Over Public Lands by Opposing Haaland for Interior [Feb. 22, 2021]

• Watchdog Group Calls Out Concerning Trend of Senators Opposing Biden’s Nominees of Color [Feb. 22, 2021]

• ROUND-UP: GOP Senators Attack Becerra, Haaland to Prove Loyalty to Special Interests [Feb. 24, 2021]

• NEW REPORT: Cabinet Nominees of Color Have Faced Unequal Treatment, Scrutiny Throughout Confirmation Process [Feb. 25, 2021]

• New Analysis Shows Senators Cast Cabinet Nominees of Color as “Radical,” But Use Softer Language for White Nominees [Feb. 26, 2021]

• ROUNDUP: GOP Senators Who Called on Haaland to “Follow Science” Have Denied Well-Established Climate Science [March 2, 2021]

• As Energy Committee Votes on Haaland Nomination, Opposition is Coming from Members Who Have Taken More Than $8 Million From Big Oil [March 4, 2021]

• Daines’ Hold on Haaland Nomination is a Big Show for Oil and Gas Donors [March 9, 2021]

Nonpartisan watchdog group Accountable.US recently launched the Accountable Senate War Room to fight back against those lawmakers who seek to overturn the will of the people by standing in the way of the smooth transition of power and the swift approval of nominees to ensure that the government can function and advance the interests of all American people, not just the rich and powerful.


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