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AOC calls out senator who expressed 'unease' with Indigenous representative's nomination

Senator Joe Manchin's vote is vital to Congresswoman Deb Haaland's confirmation in the evenly-divided Senate.

AOC calls out senator who expressed 'unease' with Indigenous representative's nomination
Cover Image Source: (L) Deb Haaland on February 23, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Graeme Jennings-Pool) (M)Joe Manchinon (Photo by Jim Watson-Pool) (R)AOC on July 15, 2019, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

As part of his pledge to make his Cabinet the most diverse in U.S. history, President Joe Biden nominated Congresswoman Deb Haaland to head the US Department of Interior to restore its mission of conserving the country's "natural resources and cultural heritage for the benefit and enjoyment of the American people." If confirmed, Haaland, a Laguna Pueblo member representing New Mexico, would be the first Native American to hold a cabinet secretary position in the US. She is expected to play a crucial role in following through on Biden's vows to move the federal government away from fossil fuels and restore environmental protections on public lands after Trump's attempts to expand drilling, mining, and logging.



The possibility of an Indigenous person heading the Department of Interior bears great hope for Indian Country, which has a long history with the Interior Department that has more often been bad than good. As Dr. Traci Morris, Executive Director of the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University, explained: "To Indian Country, Haaland is viewed as everybody's 'auntie.' Having her in leadership gives Native America a seat at the policymaking table. For New Mexico, she has been a productive member of Congress, reelected in 2020 with over 58% of the vote. And while a few Western senators have called her views 'radical,' I believe that Native issues are American issues. If Haaland is confirmed as interior secretary, many observers expect her to provide bold leadership for an agency that oversees what is arguably the heart of America: its land."



While many such "Western senators" have emerged from the Republican party, one Democratic senator has also expressed qualms about Haaland's nomination. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), the lawmaker who voted for more Trump nominees than any other Democrat, reportedly indicated Monday that he was having doubts about the candidate. According to NBC News White House Correspondent Geoff Bennett, Manchin's spokeswoman Sam Runyon revealed that he was undecided regarding his vote and that although Manchin and Haaland have met to discuss her nomination via Zoom, he was left with "remaining questions."



Speaking to E&E News about his conversation with Haaland, Manchin said: "I've just spoken to Deb Haaland. I don't know Deb Haaland, but I look forward to meeting her. I had a nice conversation with her, and she seems like a very good and sincere person. She has a little bit different agenda than us, but her and I spoke about that. I want to make sure the Interior Department is able to continue to contribute as it always has to our country." He also expressed concerns about Haaland's support for banning fracking on public lands, saying: "We shouldn't just sit back and say it's acceptable. I think [a fracking ban] would be detrimental to [Haaland] or anyone else who says you are just going to eliminate something."



Manchin's vote is vital to Haaland's confirmation in the evenly-divided Senate as Democrats require all 50 of their Senators and a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris to confirm her to the position. Manchin's reluctance to accept Biden's picks quickly prompted Democratic blowback and raised questions about why he's been less than supportive of a number of nominees who are people of color. Among those to call him out was Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) who pointed out the optics of the situation by citing Manchin's vote to confirm then-Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to serve as former President Donald Trump's Attorney General in 2017.



"Jeff Sessions was so openly racist that even Reagan couldn't appoint him. Manchin voted to confirm him. Sessions then targeted immigrant children for wide-scale human rights abuses with family separation. Yet the 1st Native woman to be Cabinet Sec is where Manchin finds unease?" she asked in a tweet. As Vox points out, Manchin has long established himself as a conservative Democrat willing to buck his party. This was made evident by all the times he set himself apart from fellow Democrats by backing Trump nominees of the likes of Attorney General Sessions, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who faced an allegation of sexual assault during his confirmation process, and former US Ambassador to Germany Ric Grenell, who encountered backlash for his own tweets criticizing women.







However, Manchin might choose to side with his own party this time as he appeared to express support for Haaland in a statement released Tuesday following the first day of her Senate confirmation hearing to lead the Interior Department. This could ultimately prove beneficial to his own political career as several netizens have expressed frustration with Manchin's moderation at a time when Democrats' majority is as narrow as possible. 

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