POLITICS

Tribes Lobby Republicans To Confirm Deb Haaland As Interior Secretary

"You fully recognize the importance of including Native representation at the highest levels," tribal leaders told Oklahoma Sens. Jim Inhofe and James Lankford.

More than two dozen tribal leaders in Oklahoma are urging their state’s Republican senators, Jim Inhofe and James Lankford, to vote to confirm President Joe Biden’s historic interior secretary nominee, Deb Haaland.

“As senators for a state with 39 federally recognized Tribal nations and one of the highest Native populations in the United States, you fully recognize the importance of including Native representation at the highest levels of government,” reads a Jan. 15 letter to the senators, signed by 26 tribal leaders from around the state.

If confirmed, Haaland, currently a second-term House Democrat, would be the country’s first Native Cabinet secretary.

The tribal leaders also highlighted Haaland’s bipartisan credentials, which have included House Republicans endorsing her nomination.

“She boasts public and private sector experience in relevant Tribal and land issues, and a record of working across the aisle to get things done,” they wrote. “During her time in Congress, she built meaningful relationships with House and Senate Republicans and worked hard to find common ground on tough issues.”

Signatories on the letter include Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin and Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Chief Gary Batton, leaders of the largest tribes in the state. 

Here’s a copy of the letter:

Barring something unexpected, Haaland likely already has enough votes to be confirmed, given that Democrats now narrowly control the Senate. There’s no reason to think a number of Republicans wouldn’t vote for her, too. Support from Inhofe and Lankford would simply give Haaland a stronger confirmation vote for the record.

It would also reflect on the GOP senators themselves, and their willingness to listen to what the tribes in their state are asking for.

Before the Senate votes, though, Haaland must have her confirmation hearing, which the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources has not scheduled yet. Neither Inhofe nor Lankford sit on that committee. 

Inhofe spokeswoman Leacy Burke couldn’t say if the senator plans to support Haaland’s confirmation.

“Sen. Inhofe always appreciates hearing from Oklahomans about pending nominations,” Burke said in a statement. “He hasn’t had an opportunity to speak with Rep. Haaland yet.”

A Lankford spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on whether he planned to support Haaland’s nomination.

Tribes in other states are also urging their Republican senators to back Haaland. Devon Boyer, chairman of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in Idaho, wrote to Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo this month saying Haaland’s nomination is an opportunity “to turn a dark page” on the agency’s history.

Boyer referenced the department’s previous policies that involved taking over millions of acres of tribal homelands and forcibly removing Native children from their homes and into boarding schools, where they were forbidden from speaking their language or practicing their religion.

“The Tribes view the nomination of Rep. Deb Haaland as a historic opportunity to put this past to rest while opening a new era for Indian tribal government to work in true partnership with the United States to improve the lives of reservation residents,” he said in his letter.

Aides to Risch and Crapo did not answer a request for comment on whether the lawmakers will vote to confirm Haaland.