Manchin says he'll vote for Haaland for interior secretary

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Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaks during a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on the nomination of Rep. Debra Haaland, D-N.M., to be Secretary of the Interior on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. (Leigh Vogel/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON – Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Wednesday that he will vote for New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland to serve as interior secretary, clearing the way for her likely approval as the first Native American to head a Cabinet agency.

Manchin, a moderate from West Virginia, had been publicly undecided through two days of hearings on Haaland's nomination by President Joe Biden. Manchin caused a political uproar last week by announcing plans to oppose Biden’s choice for budget director, Neera Tanden, a crucial defection that could sink her nomination in the evenly divided Senate.

By contrast, Manchin said Haaland had earned his vote, despite disagreements over drilling on federal lands and the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

“I believe Deb Haaland will be a secretary of the Interior for every American and will vote to confirm her,'' Manchin said in a statement. “While we do not agree on every issue, she reaffirmed her strong commitment to bipartisanship, addressing the diverse needs of our country and maintaining our nation’s energy independence.''

Haaland's House colleagues on both sides of the aisle, including Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young, praised Haaland's bipartisan accomplishments and “sincere willingness to work collaboratively on important issues,'' Manchin said.

Manchin also said he was pleased that Haaland, during hearings this week, said the Biden administration is committed to continuing to use fossil fuels “for years to come, even as we transition to a cleaner energy future through innovation, not elimination."

Manchin, a longtime coal industry defender, leads a committee that is crucial to Biden’s efforts to address climate change but has expressed skepticism about some of the actions advocates say are needed to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. He has stressed the need to create clean-energy jobs to replace jobs likely to be lost in the transition away from coal, oil and natural gas.

Manchin's announcement came as Republicans denounced Haaland, saying her opposition to fracking, Keystone XL and other issues made her unfit to serve in a role in which she will oversee energy development on vast swaths of federal lands, mostly in the West, as well as offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska.