Deb Haaland becomes first Native American to serve in US Cabinet

New secretary of interior says her priorities are confronting the climate crisis and reducing carbon emissions

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The US Senate confirmed on Monday the nomination of Deb Haaland as secretary of interior, making her the first Native American to assume a Cabinet position in US history.

A total of 51 senators voted to confirm Ms Haaland while 40 senators rejected her nomination. The four Republicans who broke with their party to confirm her were Lindsey Graham, Dan Sullivan, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski.

Though these four Republican senators supported Ms Haaland's confirmation, others rallied against what they called her “radical” environmental agenda.

This is the second time that Ms Haaland has made history. In 2018, she became one of only two Native American members of Congress, representing the first congressional district of New Mexico.

She acknowledged the historical milestone when she was first nominated to join President Joe Biden's Cabinet in December. "A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior…I'll be fierce for all of us, our planet and all of our protected land," she tweeted.

Her confirmation was backed by progressives, pro-environment voices and indigenous tribes. She is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna tribe.

Ms Haaland made clear in her hearing that her priorities are confronting the climate crisis and reducing carbon emissions. But in addressing concerns about her views on public land use, fracking and fossil fuels, she deferred to Mr Biden’s agenda, saying that it will guide the department’s policies.

"If I am confirmed as secretary, I would be serving at the pleasure of the president and it would be his agenda that I would move forward,” Ms Haaland said.

In the past, she has opposed and protested at the sites of projects such as the Keystone XL pipeline and was a sponsor of the Green New Deal in Congress. The Biden administration revoked permits for the Keystone pipeline and the president signed executive orders that put a moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the Arctic.

In Congress, Ms Haaland served as vice president of the House committee on natural resources.

John Barrasso, a Republican senator from Wyoming, opposed her nomination and said her views on fracking and cutting fossil fuel are disqualifiers. "Representative Haaland's policy views and lack of substantive answers during her confirmation hearing, in my opinion, disqualify her for this job," he said.

But other Republicans such as Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski voted to move forward her nomination last week.