In one of the most closely watched votes in the organization of President Joe Biden’s cabinet, Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski today joined Democrats to support Interior Secretary nominee Rep. Deb Haaland, sending the nomination to the Senate floor.
Murkowski was the lone Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to approve Haaland’s nomination, saying that while she has her reservations about what the Biden administration will mean for Alaska’s resource development, she’s trusting that they’ll be able to work together.
“I’ve decided to support this nomination today, to support the first Native American who will hold this position and with the expectation that Rep. Haaland will be true to her word. Not to just on matters relating to Native peoples, but also responsible resource development and every other issue. I also fully anticipate that she will have a strong management team in place with people who understand the value of resource development from public lands. We need this in the Department of the Interior.”
Murkowski said Alaskans have been intensely interested in Haaland’s nomination but have been split between those who are “enormously proud” to have a Native American nominated to the position while others were concerned that Haaland’s previous opposition to some resource development projects on public lands in Alaska would influence how she does her job.
“Rep. Haaland’s heart is there for Native peoples and all who treasure public lands. I don’t believe that is the extent of the Interior’s mission, but she’s also told us that she recognizes that if confirmed she’ll be serving in a different capacity,” Murkowski said. “She told me that she knows she’ll need to represent every Alaskan, including those who work to responsibly develop our lands, and she committed to me, and these are her words, ‘We’re doing all we can to ensure that your constituents have the opportunities that they need.'”
Murkowski acknowledged that given the early days of the administration—which has seen executive orders take aim at oil development—she has her doubts but that she’s ultimately taking Haaland’s word that she’ll treat all issues fairly.
Haaland’s nomination is all but certain at this point, which would make her the first ever Native American to hold the position of Interior Secretary. Though her nomination has become a proxy fight over the development of fossil fuels, Alaska U.S. Rep. Don Young was an early supporter of Haaland and testified to the Senate and Natural Resources Committee in support of Haaland.
The big picture: As if the Haaland vote wasn’t evidence enough, Murkowski is going to hold onto the limelight as one of the most important moderates in the evenly split Senate under the Biden administration. The administration is seeking her input on many issues and she’s keen on using that sway to help Alaska, whose finances are the hardest-hit of any state during the pandemic. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship where Murkowski can bring home the bucks heading into her reelection while the Biden administration can get some of that unity and bipartisanship everyone’s been talking about.
“My state needs relief,” Murkowski told the Washington Post for a story about the administration courting her support. “If Congress is going to move this much money out the door, how am I going to make sure that states like Alaska — who have been significantly impacted, who are still in need of rescue, if that’s the term that they’re using for this package — that we, in fact, get those, get access to those rescue dollars?”