Daines, Lummis put hold on Haaland, Biden's nominee for Interior Department, forcing debate

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Sens. Steve Daines and Cynthia Lummis on Tuesday announced that they will put a "hold" on the nomination of Rep. Deb Haaland to lead the Interior Department, a procedural tactic designed to delay the nomination by forcing debate.

The tactic is not expected to provide a very significant hurdle for Haaland's eventual confirmation. Haaland, D-N.M., was voted out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on an 11-9 vote with the support of moderate Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and energy-state Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

The Senate can end debate on the executive nomination with a simple majority vote, which is virtually assured with the support of Murkowski and Manchin, as well as Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

But the move by Daines, R-Mont., and Lummis, R-Wyo., shows the displeasure with the Biden administration's energy policies among Republicans from the West, who have been particularly irked by the president's decision to kill the Keystone XL Pipeline project.

Rep. Debra Haaland, D-N.M., testifies before a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on her nomination to be Secretary of the Interior on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. (Sarah Silbiger/Pool via AP) ((Sarah Silbiger/Pool via AP))

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"I will be forcing debate on Rep. Haaland’s nomination to Interior. Her record is clear: she opposes pipelines & fossil fuels, ignores science when it comes to wildlife management & wants to ban trapping on public lands," Daines said in a statement on the action. "Her views will hurt the Montana way of life and kill Montana jobs. We must consider the impact she will have on the West."

Daines' comment about wildlife management is likely a reference to an exchange he had with Haaland over grizzly bears during her confirmation hearing.

Daines asked Haaland why she co-sponsored a bill to provide grizzly bears with federal protections forever when the bears are not only not endangered, but "well above carrying capacity." Carrying capacity is a term in biology that refers to the number of a certain species that a given ecosystem can support. In other words, there are now too many bears in and around Yellowstone National Park, Daines said.

"I imagine at the time I was caring about the bears," Haaland said.

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., speaks during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the nomination of Xavier Becerra to be Secretary of Health and Human Services on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. (Michael Reynolds/Pool via AP)

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., speaks during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the nomination of Xavier Becerra to be Secretary of Health and Human Services on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. (Michael Reynolds/Pool via AP)

Daines then asked Haaland why she thought grizzly bear management should remain a federal responsibility even after their populations bounced back, to which she responded that she was "not saying that it shouldn't be returned back to the states."

"Well, that's what your legislation you co-sponsored said," Daines replied. "As it would keep it in federal protections forever, in perpetuity."

MURKOWSKI BACKS HAALAND DESPITE 'MISGIVINGS ABOUT OIL, GAS RESTRICTIONS FOR ALASKA

Lummis also panned Haaland's energy policies in a statement Tuesday.

"According to a University of Wyoming analysis, the Biden ban could cost my state nearly $13 billion in tax revenue, which would devastate Wyoming’s investments in education, healthcare and infrastructure," she said. "Congresswoman Deb Haaland will be a champion of this and even more radical policies, and I am committed to doing anything I can to fight the Biden and Haaland job-killing agenda."

Lummis continued that not only will "Wyoming's energy workers and producers" lose jobs, but others in the state will be harmed by the loss of revenue from commerce and taxes that comes from those jobs.

Manchin, the chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is known for being one of Democrats most supportive of fossil fuel projects. But he said in a statement on his vote to support Haaland that "[w]hile I may not personally agree with some of Representative Deb Haaland’s past statements and policy positions, as Secretary, she will be carrying out President Biden’s agenda. And, as a former Governor, I understand the importance of having one’s own team in place."

Murkowski also said she "struggled" with her vote to support Haaland because her constituents are "concerned about the agendas Representative Haaland will seek to implement on her own and on behalf of the White House." Murkowski specifically said she is worried about Haaland's opposition to "resource development" on public lands and some specific projects in Alaska.

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But Murkowski said that Haaland, who would become the first Native American Cabinet secretary if confirmed, will be a strong advocate for the interests of Native Alaskans "despite some very real misgivings" the senator has about the nominee on other policies.

Despite slow going on the confirmation of some of President Biden's nominees in the Senate, most have moved successfully out of committees and toward floor confirmation votes. The Senate is set to take procedural votes on attorney general nominee Judge Merrick Garland and Housing and Urban Development secretary nominee Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, Tuesday.

The only Biden nominee so far to be stymied in the Senate is Neera Tanden, who was nominated to be the director of the Office of Management and Budget. Manchin and multiple moderate Republicans announced their opposition to Tanden's nomination over her caustic Twitter history.

Fox News' Chad Pergram contributed to this report.

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