Senate Republicans are out to defeat more cabinet members than is customary for an incoming administration. Generally their objections have centered on accusations, specious and hypocritical, that Biden’s nominees exhibit too much partisanship–this from a party that backed Mike Pompeo and Mick Mulvaney. But GOP opposition to Interior-Secretary nominee Deb Haaland is rooted in more traditional policy disagreements, and is an especially important fight for the progressive movement.

President Biden thrilled progressive Democrats by nominating Haaland for Secretary of the Interior. Having disappointed environmentalists with his refusal to support a national ban on hydraulic fracturing, Biden sent a message of support for conservation by nominating this leading environmental advocate. Haaland has the strong support of environmental groups and top left-leaning legislators like her fellow New Mexico congressperson Raul Grijalva. She is the face of climate action.

And her status as the ideal person for climate-change action policy in the Biden administration rests on more than her policy positions. If confirmed, Haaland would be the first Native American cabinet secretary. Like nearly every environmental issue, climate change falls most heavily on people of color in this country. Along with EPA Administrator nominee Michael Regan, an African American, Haaland would add to a diverse environmental team at a time when our country faces both ecological and racial-equity crises. Natives have particularly suffered from environmental injustice with the expropriation and depletion of hunting grounds in the 19th century.

It is hard to overstate the historical eloquence of an Indigenous woman taking the helm at the Department of Interior. The United States of America would not exist as a nation-state if it had not been for a brutal three-century genocide against Native Americans. For example, in the Charlotte, North Carolina area, the local Native population fell from 10,000 to 126 in the course of European settlement. There are barely any Native-majority towns left east of the Mississippi River–where in 1492, every community on the continent was majority-Indigenous. To have a Native American woman in charge of federal lands would reflect the arc of the moral universe bending the right way.

The first Native federal official was appointed in the Ulysses S. Grant administration, nearly 100 years after the American Founding, and it has taken another century-and-a-half to bring an Indigenous person to the brink of cabinet confirmation. Deb Haaland is as good a candidate as any to correct this historical injustice by joining the cabinet of a United States president. She is progressive on all the important issues, and she has the vision and the sense of history to vindicate the moral claims of her community. Republicans are hellbent on fighting her nomination. Progressives should fight back–and win.


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