Amid jostling for Biden energy roles, New Mexicans stake claim on Interior

The state’s Rep. Deb Haaland and Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich have become increasingly visible in pitching themselves as potential heads of the Interior Department, sources following the jockeying said.

Haaland, the vice chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, didn’t deny her interest in the role as she touted her potential inclusion in a potential candidates’ list as a historic first.

“I’m honored that people believe in my leadership in protecting our public lands and combating climate change,” said the first-term House member who previously served as the state’s Democratic Party chair. “It is also meaningful that our country has finally reached the point where having the first Native American Cabinet Secretary is a serious consideration. I am open to those opportunities where I can best serve New Mexico, Indian Country and our country at large.”

Udall’s office declined to comment, and pointed to his March 2019 announcement that he would not seek reelection to the Senate but that he was not done with public life.

“Now, I’m most certainly not retiring,” Udall said in that video. “I intend to find new ways to serve New Mexico and our country after I finish this term. There will be more chapters in my public service to do what needs to be done.”

A source familiar with Udall’s thinking told POLITICO he would consider the position if asked.

Udall comes from a storied political family. His father, Stewart Udall, led Interior for eight years under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations where he oversaw the dramatic expansion of millions of acres of public lands and assisted in passage of bedrock environmental statues, such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Haaland’s backers are pushing for her to make history as the first Native American to serve in a presidential cabinet. She’s also teamed up with Udall as a lead sponsor of a resolution S. Res. 372 (116) setting a national goal of conserving 30 percent of U.S. land and oceans by 2030.

Staff for Heinrich, now in his second term in the Senate, demurred when asked about his interest, with one aide saying that he “is laser focused on doing absolutely everything in his power to ensure Joe Biden is elected president, so we can end Trump’s war on our public land and put millions of Americans back to work restoring our natural resources.”

Heinrich has played key roles behind-the-scenes in getting two major public lands packages —the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, S. 47 (116) and the Great American Outdoors Act, H.R. 1957 (116) — across the finish line this Congress. And he led Democrats’ charge to remove William Perry Pendley from atop the Bureau of Land Management, and is well-connected within influential sportsmens groups.

All three New Mexicans have been visible surrogates for the Biden campaign. Haaland is a member of the campaign’s Climate Engagement Advisory Council and hosted a fundraiser for the campaign alongside Udall in late June. Heinrich hosted his own fundraiser

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