The Senate voted Thursday to move forward with confirming Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) to lead the Interior Department, bringing President Joe Biden’s nominee one step closer to becoming the nation’s first Native American cabinet secretary in U.S. history.
Thursday’s action, called a cloture vote, was only a procedural step. But it accomplished two things: It teed up Haaland for a final confirmation vote on Monday, and it put Republican senators on record for the first time as to how they’ll likely vote in the end. The way senators vote on cloture almost always mirrors their final votes on a nominee.
The vote on cloture was 54 to 42. Every Democrat voted to advance Haaland’s nomination. Four Republicans voted with them: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Dan Sullivan (Alaska). Four senators didn’t vote at all. They were Republican Sens. Richard Burr (N.C.), Bill Cassidy (La.), John Kennedy (La.) and Jerry Moran (Kan.).
Collins and Murkowski had already indicated that they planned to vote to confirm Haaland. But Graham and Sullivan emerged as new votes of support, at least on cloture.
HuffPost reached out to Graham’s and Sullivan’s offices to see if those senators would similarly vote to confirm Biden’s nominee on Monday.
Sullivan spokesperson Nate Adams didn’t offer much clarity.
“Senator Sullivan had another hour-long meeting with Congresswoman Haaland yesterday and is following up on numerous commitments Haaland has made to him and continuing to evaluate her responses to questions he has raised,” Adams said in an emailed statement.
Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop suggested that Graham would follow through and vote to confirm Haaland. He shared a Jan. 14 letter from a tribal leader that he said “carried a lot of weight” with the senator.
The letter, from Chief William Harris of the Catawba Indian Nation in South Carolina, said Haaland is “truly historic for our community” and she would be “a strong ally” to the tribe.
“In our more than a decade of work together, I am grateful for you and your staff’s strong respect and support for tribal self-determination,” Harris wrote to Graham. “In light of that work, I am hopeful that you can support Congresswoman Haaland’s nomination.”
Haaland, who previously chaired the House Natural Resources subcommittee with oversight authority for the Interior Department, already has the votes to be confirmed. After Monday’s vote, she will be in charge of the massive federal agency overseeing public lands and tribal obligations.
“Under President Trump, the Department of Interior became one of the most scandal-ridden agencies in the federal government,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor. “It gave oil and mining companies carte blanche to drill in wildlife reserves, rolled back environmental protections, and greatly undermined trust in the federal government in tribal lands.”
“Rep. Haaland will move the department in a dramatically different direction,” he continued. “One of her most important responsibilities will be to restore and uphold the federal government’s obligations to sovereign tribal nations. I cannot think of a better candidate to take on this job than Rep. Haaland, and I greatly look forward to confirming her.”
This story has been updated with comments from Sen. Graham’s office.