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Political Notebook

Senate energy panel backs Haaland to lead Interior Department

Representative Deb Haaland's nomination to lead the Department of the Interior moved to the full Senate.
Representative Deb Haaland's nomination to lead the Department of the Interior moved to the full Senate.Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg

WASHINGTON — A key Senate committee on Thursday approved the nomination of New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland to be interior secretary, clearing the way for a Senate vote that is likely to make her the first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved Haaland’s nomination, 11-9, sending it to the Senate floor. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski was the lone Republican to support Haaland, who won unanimous backing from committee Democrats.

Murkowski, a former chair of the committee, said she had “some real misgivings” about Haaland, because of her support for policies that Murkowski said could impede Alaska’s reliance on oil and other fossil fuels. But the senator said she would place her “trust” in Haaland’s word that she would work with her and other Alaskans to support the state.

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Her vote comes with a warning, Murkowski added: She expects Haaland “will be true to her word” to help Alaska. Haaland was not in the committee room, but Murkowski addressed her directly, saying, ’'I will hold you to your commitments.”

“Quite honestly,” Murkowski added, “we need you to be a success.”

Democratic Senators Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Maria Cantwell of Washington state both called the committee vote historic, and both said they were disappointed at the anti-Haaland rhetoric used by several Republicans. Wyoming Senator John Barrasso, the panel’s top Republican, and other GOP senators have repeatedly called Haaland’s views “radical” and extreme.

Heinrich said two interior secretaries nominated by former president Donald Trump could be called “radical” for their support of expanded drilling and other resource extraction, but he never used that word to describe them. Under the leadership of Cantwell and Murkowski, the energy panel has been bipartisan and productive in recent years, Heinrich said, adding that he hopes that tradition continues.

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The committee vote follows an announcement Wednesday by Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, that she will support Haaland in the full Senate. Her vote, along with Murkowski’s, makes Haaland’s confirmation by the Senate nearly certain.

The panel’s chairman, Senator Joe Manchin, announced his support for Haaland last week. Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia, said Thursday that he does not agree with Haaland on a variety of issues, including the Keystone XL oil pipeline, but was impressed by the strong endorsement by Alaska Representative Don Young, a conservative Republican who is the longest-serving member of the House and has forged a strong working relationship with the liberal Haaland.

As a former governor, Manchin also said he knows how important it is for a president to have his “team on board” in the Cabinet.

“It is long past time to give a Native American woman a seat at the Cabinet table,” he said. Interior oversees the nation’s public lands and waters and leads relations with nearly 600 federally recognized tribes.

Barrasso, who has led opposition to Haaland, said her hostility to fracking, the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and other issues made her unfit to serve in a position 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.

Barrasso said a moratorium imposed by Biden on oil and gas leases on federal lands “is taking a sledgehammer to Western states’ economies.″ The moratorium, which Haaland supports, could cost thousands of jobs in West, Barrasso said.

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Associated Press

In Fla., questions raised on vaccines and political donations

Last week, former Illinois governor Bruce Rauner was inspired to donate a quarter-million dollars to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s war chest.

The hefty donation came about a month after Rauner’s ultrawealthy and exclusive community on the northern tip of Key Largo received enough coronavirus vaccine doses for 1,200 residents over the age of 65, according to a Miami Herald report on Wednesday evening.

That vaccine access — at a time when many other older Floridians struggled to find doses — combined with donations to DeSantis by Rauner and more than a dozen other residents in the Ocean Reef Club have raised new concerns among critics of the Republican governor’s handling of the pandemic.

’'This is wrong on so many levels,” state Senator Annette Taddeo, a Democrat who represents part of Miami-Dade County, said in a tweet Wednesday night. “Floridians life saving vaccines should NOT depend on a rich Zip code or how big your political contribution is!!!”

Neither Rauner nor DeSantis immediately returned messages from The Washington Post late on Wednesday. The Ocean Reef Club and the medical center there also didn’t respond to messages from the Post.

DeSantis spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice told the Herald that the governor played no role in choosing the Ocean Reef Club as a vaccine site.

“This was not a state supported senior community POD [point of distribution], nor was it requested by the governor,” Beatrice said. “The state has utilized a variety of approaches including walk-up, drive-through and faith-based initiatives to ensure vaccine access to all eligible Floridians, particularly in underserved communities. These efforts have resulted in Florida vaccinating over 50 percent of our state’s senior population — the highest of any state in the nation.”

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It’s not clear exactly how the vaccines ended up at the Ocean Reef Club.

Statewide, DeSantis has taken a personal hand in directing “pop-up’” vaccination centers, the Herald reported. Last month, that led to ire from both Democrats and Republicans after he organized one in a mostly white, affluent part of Manatee County and then threatened to take the vaccines away from counties where officials criticized his approach.

“If Manatee County doesn’t like us doing this, then we are totally fine with putting this in counties that want it,” DeSantis said at a news conference in February. “We’re totally happy to do that.”

Critics have also accused DeSantis of using the vaccine distribution plan to appeal to donors; he has raised more than $2.7 million in February alone since he began the “pop-up” clinics, the Herald reported. DeSantis has disputed those allegations, saying his office is simply prioritizing getting the vaccine to seniors.

Washington Post