I'm Willing to Bet No Cabinet Nominee Has Ever Begun Their Opening Statement Like Deb Haaland Did

Charles P. Pierce
·4 min read
Photo credit: JIM WATSON - Getty Images
Photo credit: JIM WATSON - Getty Images

From Esquire

It is hard for a lot of people to realize what a landmark appointment Rep. Deb Haaland’s nomination to be Secretary of the Interior is to a great many people who normally don’t get juiced about Cabinet officers. From the AP:

When Liberty saw a picture of Haaland in a traditional ribbon skirt and moccasins for Joe Biden’s inauguration, she cried. She thought about her grandmother Ethil Simmonds Liberty, who didn’t become a U.S. citizen until she was 9 despite being born in the U.S. on her tribe’s reservation that straddles Kansas and Nebraska. Her grandmother was a powerful advocate for her people, petitioning to turn a pigpen into a playground, writing letters to U.S. presidents and leading the way to get a road paved to the reservation, she said. Brandi Liberty thought about her own daughter, who she is hopeful will carry on her legacy in working with tribes and embracing their heritage.

Liberty also thought about other tribal nations and what Haaland could do in terms of moving them in the right direction and connecting them to Washington, D.C. Essentially, Liberty’s grandmother on a larger scale. “This is no different than when Obama became the first Black president and what that signified,” said Liberty, who lives in New Orleans. “This is a historical mark for Indian Country as a whole.”

Haaland met the Senate on Tuesday as the hearings—and the debate—on her nomination began. Already, Senator Joe Manchin has proclaimed himself “undecided” on her nomination, making Manchin nearly two-for-two on the women of colour that this administration has nominated for Cabinet jobs, which is probably something for other Democrats to think about. What makes Haaland’s nomination even more significant is the job for which she has been nominated—not merely because Interior is so deeply involved with Native affairs, but also because Native issues are so deeply involved with the land and the water and all the things that the previous administration tried to turn into a rummage sale. And also because of history. I’m willing to bet that no Cabinet nominee ever has begun an opening statement by noting: “I acknowledge that we are on the ancestral homelands of the Nakochtank, Anacostan, and Piscataway people.”

Photo credit: Pool - Getty Images
Photo credit: Pool - Getty Images

Haaland stood in against what is now the customary Republican fauxtrage about things she’s said in the past, as well as her support for the Green New Deal, which makes oil-sodden politicians itchy. Take, for example, John Barrasso of Wyoming, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which is the committee handling Haaland’s nomination. Barrasso decided to play dumb. From CNN:

Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, confronted Haaland about a tweet from October 2020 in which she said that Republicans don't believe in science. Barrasso pointed out that he and several other Republican members of the committee are medical doctors and called the remark "concerning."

"Do you think that as medical doctors we don't believe in science? How do you stand by this statement," Barrasso asked. "Senator, yes, if you're a doctor, I would assume that you believe in science," Haaland replied.

Surely, I don’t have to run down the long recent history of wingnut physicians who get elected and then forget everything they ever learned anywhere except at Vacation Bible School. Republican politicians have accepted lucrative ignorance as the cost of maintaining their partisan viability, and they’ve done so for decades. (The tweet that Barrasso is pretending bothered him so was Haaland’s noting that an RNC document had dropped the word “science” entirely.) Haaland was composed enough not to call out Barrasso for the disingenuous charlatan that he was being at the moment. She played her answer down the middle, promising to remember not only the land and water, but also the families that depend on the extraction industries that the previous administration* allowed to run amuck. Remember, their first Interior Secretary was Ryan Zinke, who lasted two years before being forced to resign over his connection to energy corporations back in Montana. Joe Manchin had no problem deciding to vote for him.

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