Pelosi backs Haaland for Interior despite slim majority

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi has officially given the green light for President-elect Joe Biden to pluck another House Democrat — Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico — out of Congress and into his Cabinet, despite the thinner majority it would leave her in January.

Pelosi released a statement Wednesday extolling Haaland, who is a top contender to lead the Department of the Interior. But Biden transition officials have privately told reporters in recent days that House leadership has voiced concerns about pulling another Democrat from the House — a suggestion that Pelosi and her top deputy pushed back on Wednesday.

“Congresswoman Haaland knows the territory, and if she is the President-elect’s choice for Interior Secretary, then he will have made an excellent choice,” Pelosi said in a statement, giving her blessing for Biden to offer the job to the New Mexico Democrat if he chooses.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, too, disputed that he discouraged the Biden transition team from picking Haaland or any other House members for the Cabinet.

“Any assertion that I have spoken to the administration about any one of the candidates is incorrect. False. Made-up,” said Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat. Hoyer went on to describe Haaland as a “wonderful, smart, effective leader,” noting she would be a strong pick for Interior.

“It would be very historic and very appropriate,” Hoyer said.

Biden has not yet announced a decision, and his presidential transition team has repeatedly noted concerns from Democratic leadership about offering positions to members of their caucus, which will soon face its narrowest majority in decades after November’s disappointing down ballot results.

Democrats have so far lost nearly a dozen incumbents, with a pair of races still uncalled, leaving them with a razor-thin margin over Republicans in January.

The Biden team has already tapped two House Democrats for administration posts — Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) to lead the White House’s public engagement office.

Both those seats — as well as Haaland’s — are solidly Democratic, and have little risk of flipping to the GOP. The bigger concern for House Democrats is the stretch of time between those members’ resignations and the special election to replace them, leaving Pelosi and her leadership team almost no room for error during Biden’s first 100 days.

Hoyer had previously suggested that Biden would need to be judicious when choosing more Democrats from Congress for his Cabinet, noting the tight majority in both chambers. But the Maryland Democrat said Wednesday that he wasn’t speaking specifically of Haaland or any other members.

“It is a very, very close margin,” Hoyer said. “I did not speak as it related to any particular member.”

If confirmed, Haaland would be the first Native American to hold a Cabinet-level position, after a historic run in the House, where she and Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) became the first Native American women elected to Congress. Haaland has won broad support from her party, with dozens of her colleagues recently urging Biden to select her for the role.

Left-wing groups, too, organized tribal leaders to call into Pelosi’s office to lobby her for the appointment. Some deep-pocketed donors started making calls too. Mark Headley, who donated a few hundred thousand dollars to help Democrats retake the House in 2018, was among the donors pressing to have lobbyists and lawmakers push Pelosi.

Biden’s preference for Haaland was first reported by Reuters.

Heather Caygle and Alex Thompson contributed.

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