Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) is the front-runner to be President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for interior secretary, a source familiar with the selection process tells HuffPost.
“Haaland is the leading candidate,” said this source, confirming a Reuters report that came out earlier Tuesday. “She is great and has strong support.”
The challenge, though, is that if Haaland is offered the job and confirmed to it, she would leave her House seat open at a time when Democrats already have a slim majority. Two other House Democrats, Marcia Fudge (Ohio) and Cedric Richmond (La.), are planning to take administration jobs. If Haaland leaves too, Democrats would have a 219-213 majority until each of those House seats could be filled in special elections.
“There is mounting pressure and increasingly vocal concern not to pull anyone else from the House,” said this source, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely.
No final decisions have been made. And Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill declined to say whether Pelosi supports Haaland potentially taking the interior secretary post.
“We have an existing policy of not commenting on private conversations concerning the transition,” said Hammill. “I am also not in a position to comment on any possible announcements not yet made by the transition.”
But if Biden does pick Haaland for interior secretary, it wouldn’t actually take that long to fill her seat. Per New Mexico’s rules, Haaland could continue being a member of Congress until the Senate confirmed her to the Interior post. That’s when she’d have to resign her House seat, and the New Mexico Secretary of State would have 10 days to set the date of the election. The election would have to occur within 77-91 days of the seat becoming vacant.
So all told, the maximum amount of time from her resignation to a special election is roughly three months. There would only be a general election, between a Democrat chosen by the state Democratic Party and a Republican chosen by the state GOP. And Haaland’s district, New Mexico’s 1st congressional district, is solidly Democratic: Biden won it by 23% in November.
In terms of timing of an interior secretary announcement, the source familiar with the selection process said it will happen “ideally very soon,” but couldn’t say if it would be this week.
If Haaland is chosen, it will be historic. She’d be the first-ever Native American cabinet secretary. She would bring her experience as chairwoman of a House Natural Resources subcommittee with oversight authority for the Interior Department. Her selection would also reflect the will of tribes all over the country, who have been privately and publicly urging Biden to nominate her.
The Interior Department is responsible for managing the country’s natural resources and honoring the federal government’s commitments to Native American tribes, which it has failed to do time and time again. It also oversees the Bureau of Indian Education and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the latter of which manages over 55 million acres of land held in trust for Native Americans by the government. Both agencies are notoriously underfunded and have failed to adequately serve Indigenous communities.
The seismic shift of putting a Native American woman in charge of the department with oversight of public lands ― from which Indigenous people were forcibly removed by the U.S. government ― is not lost on Haaland.
“The symbolism alone, yes, it’s profound,” she told HuffPost last month.