More than 50 House Democrats are making a formal push for President-elect Joe Biden to select Rep. Deb Haaland as his Interior secretary.
The New Mexico Democrat, who is already being vetted for the position, would be the first Native American Cabinet secretary in the nation’s history.
“You can make history by giving Native Americans a seat at the Cabinet table for the first time,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter, obtained by POLITICO on Thursday.
The letter, led by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, was delivered to the Biden transition team this week. Grijalva also endorsed Haaland for the post this week in a letter to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
The letter was signed by about half of the Democrats on the committee. The signatories include progressives such as Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), as well as members of the moderate Blue Dog Caucus, such as Reps. Jim Costa (D-Calif.) and Ed Case (D-Hawaii).
Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), who was elected assistant speaker on Wednesday, making her the No. 4 House Democrat, also signed the letter.
The Interior secretary is charged with the management of public lands as well as the federal government’s relationship with Native nations. Haaland is a citizen of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, a federally recognized tribe near Albuquerque, N.M., and she is one of only two Native American women ever elected to Congress.
The Democratic lawmakers’ letter notes that Haaland has “significant experience working and living in Indian Country,” referring to her role as a tribal administrator and an organizer fighting for tribal voting rights.
A group of Native American organizations also sent Biden a letter this week backing Haaland.
At least two other New Mexico Democrats are also considered potential Interior secretary picks: Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich. Udall, who’s retiring from Congress in January, told E&E News on Tuesday that he was on Biden’s short list.
While New Mexico’s Democratic governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, would fill Heinrich’s seat if Biden tapped him for the post, selecting Haaland would trigger a special election as Democrats prepare to see their majority in the House badly weakened in the next Congress. (Lujan Grisham herself has also been mentioned as a possible Biden pick for Interior secretary.)
House Democrats have said they expect few of their colleagues to be plucked from the Capitol to serve in the Biden administration in the wake of an election drubbing that has given Republicans a net 11 seats so far.
Biden has already announced that Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) will leave Congress to become a top White House adviser to him, but it is unlikely that many of Richmond’s colleagues will follow him into the administration. Democrats will have their smallest majority in decades in January and can’t afford many special elections or even temporary vacancies.
Haaland’s seat, which includes most of Albuquerque, is safely Democratic. But if Biden plucks too many Democrats from the House for his Cabinet, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could face a perilously narrow majority in the months before special elections can be held.
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