Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., has announced he will support Rep. Deb Haaland's (D-N.M.) nomination to lead the Interior Department. His approval, coming after substantial pressure from more progressive Democrats, clears a major hurdle for Haaland as she faces Republican opposition, The Hill reports.

As one of the most conservative Democrats, Machin holds disproportionate power over the party’s agenda in the Senate’s razor-thin margins. He had previously expressed skepticism over Haaland’s more progressive beliefs. 

He announced in a statement Wednesday that he had decided to throw in with her.

“While we do not agree on every issue, she reaffirmed her strong commitment to bipartisanship, addressing the diverse needs of our country and maintaining our nation’s energy independence,” he said.

Sen. Joe Manchin Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia Photo: Reuters

Haaland had gone out of her way to reassure conservatives that she wasn’t planning on taking extreme actions against the fossil fuel industry, balancing the need to combat climate change with the key role oil and natural gas play in some states’ economies.

“There’s no question that fossil energy does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come. I know how important oil and gas revenues are to fund critical services,” she said in her opening statement. 

Those reassurances seem to have helped gain Machin’s trust, along with the promise that she would be pushing Joe Biden’s agenda rather than her own. Sen. Machin noted her support for a program allowing coal mining fees to be used to clean up old mine sites.

Manchin’s early reticence earned him sharp rebukes from progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, especially since he chairs the committee governing Haaland’s approval. 

Haaland still faces substantial opposition from Republicans representing states reliant on fossil fuels, which could delay her appointment. With a majority in support and the chair of the committee on her side, however, she’s likely to eventually reach approval.

“The Secretary of the Interior should be a consensus-builder, with a pragmatic and well-balanced track record. I’m concerned Rep. Halaand will be unable to separate from her progressive agenda and support what's best for Montana and the West,” Sen. Steve Daines said. “Her hostile record towards energy, natural resources and sportsmen issues are very concerning.”