Biden Cabinet Interior

Rep. Debra Haaland, D-N.M., testifies before a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on her nomination to be Secretary of the Interior on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. 

The Colorado Republican Party can't be blamed for asking. Wednesday the state party urged Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper to block Rep. Deb Haaland's confirmation as interior secretary unless she commits to keep the Bureau of Land Management headquarters in Grand Junction.

Neither senator accepted.

It was never likely to happen. Both senators support the congresswoman from New Mexico, who is a supporter of public lands positions favorable with fellow Democrats, particularly President Joe Biden.

On the other side, Republicans are happy to try to box in Bennet and Hickenlooper to decide between their party in Washington and the West Slope of Colorado.

When Hickenlooper questioned Haaland in a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, he made it clear he wants both: protect public lands with outdoor recreation and the BLM headquarters in Colorado.

"I strongly support keeping the BLM headquarters in Grand Junction," Hickenlooper said during Tuesday's hearing. "I know it's been somewhat controversial."

He said there is "broad bipartisan support" to do so.

“The last administration I don’t think managed the move properly," Hickenlooper said. "It was perceived as an attack on the BLM and trying to reduce its capabilities."

He doesn't think the West has yet realized the benefits of having the headquarters here, including the jobs it can support in different states.

"I hope there’s a path forward where we find a solution that restores a fully functioning agency while allowing BLM staff to work close to the lands they manage,” said the former governor.

Haaland concluded two days of testimony before the Senate committee Wednesday, withstanding characterizations from Republicans that she is an anti-energy zealot, who will bar production on public lands, a position President Biden has expressed some level of support for.

Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the ranking Republican member on the committee, cited Haaland's past positions and said she is "wholeheartedly against fracking and drilling on public lands."

The right says Biden's green energy plan will kill oilfield jobs, and in Colorado that means a loss of tax dollars to an already rocky state budget.

The Colorado GOP is asking Bennet and Hickenlooper, frequent targets of their political barbs, to help preserve the legacy of former Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, who was unseated by the former governor in November.

"Senator Bennet and Senator Hickenlooper have a choice," the Colorado GOP said in its Wednesday statement. "They can either follow (Majority Leader Chuck) Schumer in blindly voting for this extreme nominee or they can stand up for Colorado and place a hold on her nomination. They can't do both."

In the same statement, party spokesman Joe Jackson said, "Colorado and Grand Junction are worth fighting for. As Colorado's current voices in the U.S. Senate, they need fight to ensure that the BLM stays closest to the millions of acres they (sic) manage."

A spokeswoman for Bennet said in an email:

“Michael was encouraged by Representative Haaland’s remarks yesterday, during her confirmation hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where she expressed her commitment to visiting Colorado to discuss the BLM headquarters in Grand Junction. He was also glad to hear her —and the Biden Administration — endorse the CORE Act this week, which is an incredibly important piece of legislation for Colorado."

The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act is a bill Bennet and Hickenlooper are cosponsoring to protect 400,000 acres of public lands in Colorado. 

“Holding Representative Haaland’s nomination would not help," Bennet's office continued. "Instead, Michael intends to work with a bipartisan group of local leaders and the administration to find a path forward for the BLM headquarters in Grand Junction. Michael looks forward to sitting down with Representative Haaland soon and working with her in the years ahead.”

A spokeswoman for Hickenlooper said, "Congresswoman Haaland committed to keeping an open dialogue on maintaining the Grand Junction office and will make a fabulous Interior secretary. That’s why West Slope leaders support her nomination, conservation leaders support her nomination, and Senator Hickenlooper supports her nomination. Any suggestion we’d try and hold it up is simply unfounded."

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