Haaland was introduced at the hearing by Republican Rep. Don Young of Alaska, who described her as a “friend” and highlighted the fact that he represents an oil-producing state. In Haaland’s opening statement, she repeatedly emphasized bipartisanship and pledged to “work collaboratively with all members of this committee.” That’s backed up in her record of getting bipartisan sponsorship on bills she’s introduced. None of this diminished the hostility from several of the Republicans on the committee, though. Daines even went after her for supporting ongoing protections for grizzly bears. “Senator, I believe I was caring about the bears,” Haaland responded.
At the hearing, Republicans repeatedly pressed Haaland on “science.” Why did she tweet that Republicans don’t believe in science, Barrasso wanted to know. Haaland diplomatically responded that, as Barrasso is a doctor, she assumes he does believe in science. But the reality is that Republicans have for years been the party of climate denial, even if they’re trying to pretend to move away from that image more recently. When Sen. Bill Cassidy asked Haaland, “Will this administration be guided by their prejudice against fossil fuels or by science?”, rest assured he was suggesting that science is on the side of extensive fossil fuel use. It is not. (Haaland had an easy answer: “I have stated many times that if I am confirmed to the Interior Department, decisions will be guided by science.”)
The Republican hostility to Haaland is juxtaposed with passionate support from many Native people. “This is no different than when Obama became the first Black president and what that signified,” Brandi Liberty, a member of the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, told the Associated Press. “This is a historical mark for Indian Country as a whole.”
”Across the country, Haaland is beloved by First Peoples,” Julian Brave Noisecat wrote in Politico. “Her nomination has galvanized the Indigenous with the hope of representation, and it’s not lost on these voters that the leaders of the Grand Old Party are lining up against them. The National Congress of American Indians has written a letter to senators, urging them to confirm Haaland and has created a template so that tribal leaders across the country can do the same.”
Some Republicans from states with significant Indian populations may not care. Others, like Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, may decide that they do. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin may put coal above all else. But the hostility that’s been turned against a woman who is not just a qualified and competent nominee but a historic one who carries the hopes of so many people is worth remembering.
Haaland will return for another round of committee questions on Wednesday morning.