Republicans escalated their attacks on Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico, President Biden’s pick to head the Interior Department, in her second day of Senate confirmation hearings, signaling that the vote to confirm her could come down to party lines.
As they have done since her nomination was announced, oil-state Republicans on the Senate Energy Committee sharply criticized Ms. Haaland’s history of pushing to entirely shut down fossil fuel drilling and pipelines — positions which go far further than those of Mr. Biden, who has moved to pause new oil and gas leasing on public lands.
Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming singled out remarks made by Ms. Haaland in 2018 as she campaigned to eliminate oil and gas production in New Mexico, and proposed legalizing and taxing cannabis as a way to make up for the lost state revenue.
“Is selling marijuana among what the Biden administration calls the ‘better choices’ that the Biden administration has promised to give displaced oil and gas workers?” Mr. Barrasso asked. He added, “Your preference is to turn to drugs — is what you’ve recommended to the voters — at a time when we know there is high unemployment, and energy workers lose their jobs.”
Ms. Haaland responded that the proposal was intended to signal that she wants to “diversify sources of revenue for education,” and she added, “I don’t know what President Biden’s stance is on marijuana.”
The Republican National Committee on Tuesday also sent out an email urging senators to vote against Ms. Haaland, writing, “By nominating Haaland, Biden is embracing far-left special interest groups who do not care what jobs they destroy, do not know the true impacts of their policies, and have no answers on when they can get Americans back to work.”
Should Republicans unite against Ms. Haaland, she will need the support of every Democrat — including Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, who heads the Senate energy panel but has often voted with Republicans on energy policy issues. Mr. Manchin has already said he will vote against another of Mr. Biden’s nominees, Neera Tanden, who was nominated to the head the Office of Management and Budget.
While Mr. Manchin has not yet confirmed whether he will vote for Ms. Haaland, on Wednesday morning he appeared to offer her a friendly signal, saying that he supports the Biden administration’s move to put in place a 60-day moratorium on new oil and gas leases on public lands, noting that many oil and gas companies have already purchased thousands of acres of leases on public land which have not yet been drilled.
“They have the leases in hand, they haven’t used them,” Mr. Manchin said. “We haven’t shut anybody down. We haven’t stopped anybody. I believe it’s prudent to conduct a review.” He asked her, “Will any company with existing leases still be able to apply” for drilling permits?
“Thank you so much for the question,” Ms. Haaland said. “It’s my understanding that yes, permits are still moving through. I agree with you that a review is a good idea.”
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