House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) would make an “excellent choice” for interior secretary, giving her blessing to President-elect Joe Biden potentially plucking the Native American congresswoman from the House. There had been reports that Pelosi was opposed to losing another House Democrat to the incoming administration.
“Congresswoman Deb Haaland is one of the most respected and one of the best Members of Congress I have served with,” Pelosi said in a statement. “I am so proud that, as one of the first Native American women to have served in Congress, she serves as Chair of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.”
The speaker added, “Congresswoman Haaland knows the territory, and if she is the President-elect’s choice for Interior Secretary, then he will have made an excellent choice.”
Pelosi’s statement came a day after reports indicating that House Democratic leaders were warning Biden’s team against picking Haaland because it would temporarily reduce Democrats’ already thin majority in the House.
The New Mexico lawmaker emerged as Biden’s “leading candidate” for the Interior post this week, but with the caveat that it wasn’t a done deal due to “mounting pressure and increasingly vocal concern not to pull anyone else from the House,” a source familiar with the selection process told HuffPost on Tuesday.
If Haaland were offered the job and confirmed to it, she would leave her House seat open at a time when Democrats have a slim and potentially shrinking majority there. Two other representatives, Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) and Cedric Richmond (D-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.
It wouldn’t take that long to fill Haaland’s seat, though. Per New Mexico’s rules, she could continue as 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 for the special election. The election would have to occur within 77 to 91 days of the seat becoming vacant.
Under that scenario, the maximum amount of time from her resignation to a special election would be roughly three months. There would be a single election (no primaries) between candidates chosen by each of the state’s political parties. And New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, which Haaland represents, is solidly Democratic: Biden won it by 23 percentage points in November.
Pelosi’s latest statement suggests that whatever obstacle she and House Democratic leaders may have presented to Biden picking Haaland is gone.
If Haaland is chosen and confirmed, it would be historic. She’d be the first 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.
On a Wednesday call with reporters, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) strongly pushed back on the idea that he had been advising Biden’s team against tapping Haaland for the job.
“I have not talked to one single person in the administration about Deb Haaland,” Hoyer said. “I am a very close and dear friend of Deb Haaland’s. I think she is a wonderful, smart, effective leader. And I think she would be an excellent pick. ... Any assertion that I have spoken to the administration about any one of the candidates [for Cabinet posts] is incorrect. False. Made up.”
He added, “Is that pretty definitive?”