The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted largely along party lines to advance the nominations of two of President Joe Biden’s more controversial nominees – Interior nominee Deb Haaland and Health and Human Services nominee Xavier Becerra – signaling they will likely be confirmed by some of the narrowest margins of any Biden nominees so far.
After failing to be voted out of the Finance Committee – which deadlocked 14-14 along party lines – Becerra, the attorney general of California, was discharged by the full Senate on a 51-48 vote, with only moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) voting in his favor.
Becerra has been slammed by Republicans throughout his confirmation process for his support for progressive policies like Medicare-for-All, as well as his lack of a medical background – though most HHS Secretaries have not been medical doctors.
Haaland, a congresswoman from New Mexico, also won the support of Collins, as well as Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), leading to a vote of 54-42.
Like Becerra, Haaland has taken heat for her progressive positions, including her support for a fracking ban and a moratorium on fossil fuel drilling, which has led western Republicans like Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) to vigorously challenge her confirmation.
Native American activists in Alaska have lobbied hard for Sullivan and Murkowski – the latter elected through a write-in bid in 2010 thanks to considerable Native support – to vote for Haaland.
So far Biden’s nominees have mostly breezed through the Senate. Merrick Garland was confirmed as attorney general on Thursday by a landslide vote of 70-30, with 20 Republicans voting in his favor. If Becerra is confirmed by a 51-48 margin, his will easily be the closest confirmation vote of any Biden cabinet-level official so far.
Both Becerra and Haaland would make history if confirmed, fulfilling a key campaign pledge by Biden to appoint the most diverse cabinet in American history. Becerra would be the first Latino to head up HHS, while Haaland would be the first Native American cabinet secretary.
15. That’s how many of Biden’s cabinet-level nominees Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has voted against – all except Council of Economic Advisers chair Cecilia Rouse. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) have voted against 14, while Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has voted against 13. All four are viewed as prospective presidential candidates.