BY REBECCA BEITSCH – 12/10/20   

Haaland backers ask Udall to step aside in bid for Interior post

A coalition of indigenous and progressive groups is calling on Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) to withdraw himself from consideration to serve as Interior secretary under the coming Biden administration and instead back Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.).

The two New Mexico lawmakers are on President-elect Joe Biden’s short list to run the department.

While Udall would be the second in his family to run Interior, Haaland would be the first Native American to run the agency and serve in a Cabinet position.

“You have long been a champion for Indian Country and a leader in the fight for climate justice,” the groups wrote to Udall, a chair of the Senate Committee in Indian Affairs. 

“At the same time, there has already been a Udall who has served as Secretary of the Interior — your father Stewart. It would not be right for two Udalls to lead the Department of the Interior, the agency tasked with managing the nation’s public lands, natural resources and trust responsibilities to tribes, before a single Native American,” NDN Collective, an indigenous rights group, Sunrise Movement, a youth climate organization, Data for Progress and Justice Democrats wrote in the letter.

The letter continues stating that a second Udall at Interior is not “what you or your father have stood for in your tireless advocacy for strong Native representation at all levels of government.”

Udall’s office did not immediately respond to request for comment to The Hill.

Haaland, asked for comment on the letter, called Udall a dear friend and colleague.

“I am grateful for everything that he has done for New Mexico and Indian Country. No matter who President-elect Biden chooses to lead any one of his cabinet posts, I will work hard to make sure his administration is successful,” she said in a statement.

Biden has been under increasing pressure from progressives and Native American groups to select Haaland as he seeks to form a cabinet that “looks like America.”

Biden is also weighing Michael Connor for the role. Connor was Interior’s first Native American deputy secretary and served for the last three years of the Obama administration. 

Haaland advocates have redoubled their efforts to support her after a report in The New York Times quoted anonymous Biden advisors saying they were concerned she didn’t have enough experience for the role. 

The report has enraged Haaland supporters who say she has proven to be up to the task while leading the national parks, forests and public lands subcommittee on the House Natural Resources Committee. 

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the committee’s chair, had initially been backed by the caucus for the Interior job before it threw its weight behind Haaland.

“We’re talking about a formidable candidate with a great deal of support from various constituencies,” Grijalva said of Haaland.

“It would be good for the Biden administration, good for history, and it’d be good for the agency that badly needs to be repaired and reprioritized. This is a woman that has the capacity for the job,” Grijalva previously told The Hill.

Haaland was also backed by a collation of women’s groups Thursday as well as a number of celebrities. A letter organized by Marisa Tomei and Mark Ruffalo’s political advocacy organization We Stand United and Native American advocacy group Protect the Sacred was also sent to the Biden campaign Thursday. 

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