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Political Notebook

Nominations of Haaland, Becerra advance

Senate Democrats also succeeded Thursday in advancing Xavier Becerra’s nomination to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.Greg Nash/Associated Press

The Senate on Thursday voted 54 to 42 to limit debate on the nomination of Representative Deb Haaland, Democrat of New Mexico, as interior secretary, signaling that she is on her way to confirmation as the first Native American to serve in a presidential Cabinet.

Republicans have voiced objections to Haaland’s past opposition to drilling on public lands, among other things. On Thursday, four GOP senators joined Democrats in voting to allow the nomination to move forward.

The four Republicans were Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Dan Sullivan also of Alaska. All members of the Democratic caucus voted to support Haaland.


Senate Democrats also narrowly succeeded Thursday in advancing Xavier Becerra’s nomination to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.

Collins was her party’s only senator to join with every Democrat in a first procedural step by the full Senate toward confirmation. The vote was 51-48.

The outcome of a final confirmation vote, likely to take place next week, was assured earlier Thursday when the one Democrat whose support had been uncertain, Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, announced he favors the nominee. If Collins had voted no, Vice President Harris would have been available to break a 50-50 tie on the procedural vote, if needed, to keep the nomination alive.

Biden’s choice of Becerra faces strong Republican opposition, with GOP lawmakers criticizing his record on abortion and support in the past for Medicare for All. Since Becerra’s nomination in December, he has recanted on his advocacy of a single-payer health-care system, saying he supports Biden’s goal of expanding insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

The Senate Finance Committee deadlocked last week on advancing his nomination, requiring Senate majority leader Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, to try to force the nomination out of committee. That was the purpose of Thursday’s vote. The midday vote came after a biting, partisan debate on the Senate floor over Becerra’s qualifications to lead the department most pivotal to the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.


Republicans assailed Becerra’s views, including his support for abortion rights, as well as the fact that he is not trained as a doctor — training that few previous HHS secretaries have had. Democrats countered that, as California attorney general and 24 years as a congressman from Los Angeles, Becerra had ample health-care experience, having helped to write major health laws and, more recently, leading a coalition of Democratic attorneys general fighting to preserve the Affordable Care Act from a legal challenge that now is before the Supreme Court.

Washington Post

Pelosi criticizes GOP lawmakers touting relief plan

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, criticized Republicans on Thursday who opposed the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package but praised its benefits after the measure’s passage.

Every Republican in the House and Senate voted against the legislation, which President Biden signed Thursday.

In remarks at her weekly news conference, Pelosi called the bill “remarkable legislation” and said it “will make an immediate difference in people’s lives, injecting vaccine into their arms, money into their pockets, children going back into school safely and people going to work safely.”

“Unfortunately, Republicans, as I say, you know, vote no and take the dough,” Pelosi said. “You see already some of them claiming, ‘Oh, this is a good thing,’ or ‘That’s a good thing,’ but they couldn’t give it a vote.”


One of the Republicans who voted against the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package — only to later sing the praises of at least part of it — was Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi.

“Independent restaurant operators have won $28.6 billion worth of targeted relief,” Wicker said in a tweet Wednesday. “This funding will ensure small businesses can survive the pandemic by helping to adapt their operations and keep their employees on the payroll.”

Phillip Waller, Wicker’s communications director, noted Wednesday that Wicker “has supported targeted relief for restaurants from the very beginning” — but that ultimately, the senator did not agree with the shape of the relief package as a whole.

“He was not able to support $2 trillion in poorly targeted spending as was proposed by congressional Democrats,” Waller said.

Washington Post

Garland vows to protect credibility of Justice Department

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland promised on Thursday to protect the credibility of the Justice Department and Americans’ civil rights and civil liberties, delivering a short speech via video to the Justice Department’s roughly 115,000 employees about an hour after he was sworn in.

“I am honored to work with you once again,” Garland said, speaking from the department’s Great Hall. “Together, we will show the American people that the Department of Justice pursues equal justice and adheres to the rule of law.”

Garland’s speech was his first official act as attorney general. He used the moment to assure the rank and file that the Justice Department would no longer face pressure to attack the president’s enemies and protect his allies — a callback to the unyielding push by former president Donald Trump that diminished public confidence in the institution and led some career lawyers to resign.


“The only way we can succeed and retain the trust of the American people is to adhere to the norms that have become part of the DNA of every Justice Department employee,” Garland said. “Those norms require that like cases be treated alike.”

Garland was confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday in a bipartisan vote, with 20 Republicans joining all Democrats in supporting his nomination. He was sworn in as attorney general in a private ceremony at the Justice Department on Thursday morning, with a public ceremony overseen by Vice President Harris to be held in the afternoon.

Garland most recently served as a federal appeals judge for the District of Columbia Circuit, but he is best known for his 2016 nomination to serve on the Supreme Court, which Republicans refused to consider in a political power play that ultimately allowed Trump to fill the seat.

But Garland is also a longtime veteran of the Justice Department, having worked as a federal prosecutor in the US attorney’s office in Washington during the George H.W. Bush administration and as a department official during the Clinton administration.

“When I walked in the door of Main Justice this morning, it really did feel like I was coming home,” Garland told employees who watched him via video and the handful attending in person, who sat socially distanced as he spoke.


New York Times