WASHINGTON – President Biden’s cabinet took steps towards a late completion on Tuesday with confirmation from a United Nations ambassador and agriculture secretary, but other important posts remained stranded in partisan confirmation hearings.
The race to question future cabinet officials led to overlapping hearings throughout the morning, as Democrats scrambled to fill key roles that most of Mr Biden’s predecessors had filled much earlier during their first term.
The Senate voted to confirm Linda Thomas-Greenfield as UN Ambassador and Thomas J. Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture. Ms Thomas-Greenfield and Mr Vilsack were confirmed by comfortable margins as Mr Vilsack crossed 92-7 to become Secretary of Agriculture for the second time.
Earlier today, the Senate Judiciary Committee concluded a second day of questioning of Mr. Biden’s candidate for attorney general, Merrick B. Garland. Mr Garland’s hearing was once again predominantly civil and straightforward, with members on both sides continuing to adopt the same deferential tone they set in praising his qualifications on Monday.
The atmosphere was less relaxed in the other committee rooms.
Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico, Mr. Biden’s choice for Home Secretary, has been faced with a litany of questions about the fierce stance she has taken in the past against fossil fuels, especially by senators from states still dependent on fossil fuel extraction.
Among them, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin III, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, has resisted efforts to cut coal production in his state and whose vote could be crucial to the odds. confirmation from Ms. Haaland.
Democrats have emphasized the historic nature of his appointment – which Mr Manchin acknowledged. If confirmed, Ms. Haaland would be the first Native American to head a cabinet-level department, in this case the Home Department, which has abused and neglected Native Americans for much of the country’s history.
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Ms Haaland has sought to downplay her past activism, pledging to follow the political priorities of the Biden administration.
“If I am confirmed as secretary, it is President Biden’s agenda, not my own agenda, that I would go forward,” she said.
She will appear before the committee for a second day on Wednesday.
Tuesday also marked the first of two tough confirmation hearings for Xavier Becerra, the California attorney general and Mr Biden’s candidate for secretary of health and human services.
On controversial issues, Republican members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Work and Pensions sought to portray Mr Becerra, who has little public health experience, as unqualified while portraying its positions on abortion and health care as radical.
Mr Becerra, who will lead a massive coronavirus vaccination effort if confirmed, said he was looking to focus on the country’s most immediate challenges stemming from the pandemic and find opportunities to compromise on more politicized health policies.
“When I get to these questions, I understand that we don’t always agree on which direction to take,” he said, “but I think we can find some common ground.”
Mr. Becerra will face another round of questions from the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the Finance Committee also called a confirmation hearing for Adewale O. Adeyemo, Mr Biden’s choice for the post of Assistant Secretary to the Treasury.
The steady pace of hearings helped make up for lost time for Senators who spent six days this month focusing entirely on the impeachment trial of former President Donald J. Trump.
It also allowed senators to consider even more candidates this week. On Wednesday, senators will resume the appointment of William J. Burns as head of the Central Intelligence Agency, and on Thursday, they will look to the appointment of Katherine C. Tai as the United States trade representative.