REP. HAALAND: Thank you. Good to be here.
REP. DAVIDS: Good morning.
MS. TUMULTY: Congresswoman Haaland, I'm going to have to begin with you, here, because your name is in the news quite a bit at this moment. There appears to be a groundswell of voices saying that you should be named Interior Secretary in the incoming Biden administration. We're hearing it from progressive groups; we're hearing it from Hollywood A-listers, who normally don't take all that much interest in who the Interior Secretary is.
Just this morning, Julian Castro tweeted, "It is unconscionable that a Native American has never served in the cabinet. That should change now."
So, my first question is, are you being vetted by the Biden transition team?
REP. HAALAND: No, I am not being vetted. I mean, I think anyone who's being considered is being vetted to some degree, but you know, I think they need to make the choice first before the vetting happens.
What I'm doing right now is concentrated on making sure that our country can get past this terrible pandemic. I'll be very honest with you, this is--this is an issue in Indian country, when we talk about Indian country, one of the most challenged communities because they don't have the infrastructure, they don't have the health care they need. We are working feverishly on that.
What I will say about the interior secretary position is that our country has come a long way. I am so proud that Sharice Davids and I became the first Native women to serve in Congress, and it's--I think it's wonderful that our country is progressing in that manner, that a cabinet-level position for, you know--filled by a Native American is a conversation that we're having right now.
MS. TUMULTY: And could you talk a little bit about the Interior Department, itself? Because I think a lot of people who live in cities in particular think of the Interior Department as, you know, parks. What is it about that agency and its mission that has particular relevance to Native American communities?
REP. HAALAND: Sure. Well, of course, the national parks are part of the Interior Department, and Indian Affairs are also a part of the Interior Department. And so, when we think about our public lands--I'm the Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands--when we think about our public lands--and the Interior Department has--you know, manages all of those public lands, we have to include Native Americans in the conversation because this was all Indian country at one time. We've had several hearings during this term in Congress, bringing tribal leaders to the table to tell us why the--you know, the cutting-off of big swathes of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante and why the blasting apart of sacred sites on the southern border to build Trump's border wall are an issue for Indian tribes. They deserve to be consulted when decisions about our public lands are made, and we've seen that play out in real time during this administration, and what happens when you don't consult tribes.
MS. TUMULTY: Another name that is being mentioned is Michael Connor, also a Native American, previously the Deputy Secretary of the Interior. Would it be any less significant, say, for that--the Secretary's job to go to him?
REP. HAALAND: You know, what I'll say is I worked extremely hard to make sure that Joe Biden won this election, and I am going to support whoever President-elect Biden chooses for any cabinet position. It will be my job in Congress, or wherever I am, to make sure that this administration is a success, and I'm committed to that.
MS. TUMULTY: You know, both of you have spoken so eloquently about the power of representation. And both of you came to Congress through some rather unusual routes.
Congresswoman Davids, you at one point were competing in martial arts competitions, which reminded me of something funny Ronald Reagan once said, where he--somebody said, "How can an actor be a president?" And he said, "I don't know how you could be a president if you hadn't been an actor."
I'm wondering if martial arts suddenly seems pretty relevant to where you find yourself right now in the House of Representatives.
REP. DAVIDS: Yeah, well, you know, I think it's--it certainly is true that being a martial artist, having competed in both amateur and professional mixed martial arts, it definitely got me ready for what we're doing here, and even running for office. And it's--I think a lot of people probably think about the fighting aspect, but so much of it has to do with just getting prepared, staying prepared, and really showing up and doing the hard work that's required to be good at what you do every single day.
And when you're competing everybody knows you've got to have a coach, and you have to be able to listen to the people around you who are trying to help you. And in this case, when you're running for office, you got to listen to the people who you are there to represent, and I think there are lots of ways that martial arts got me prepared for this.
And I do want to make sure that everybody knows I represent the 3rd District in Kansas, and I think in the opening it was Nebraska that you mentioned, but--
MS. TUMULTY: I'm sorry.
REP. DAVIDS: No, that's okay. And it's funny because I was actually thinking, you know, I'm Ho-Chunk, which is a tribe in Wisconsin, but we are very closely related to and our people are all from the same people-- there's the Winnebago in Nebraska, so I thought it was a good opportunity to mention that.
MS. TUMULTY: My apologies.
REP. DAVIDS: Oh, no. I'm glad I got to mention the history, there.
MS. TUMULTY: So, at what point in your life did you suddenly see your interests sort of--and your calling switch over to politics?
REP. DAVIDS: I think Deb has a much more interesting story on that; I'll keep mine short. You know, I was doing community and economic development work with tribal communities and, at one point, had lived and worked on a reservation doing community and economic development work. And through that work, I saw the complexity of the federal government and really wanted to just be more engaged, learn more, and figure out ways to contribute through that. And so, I decided to be--I applied to be a White House Fellow and was very fortunate to be selected. And after that experience, I just realized how important it is to have different voices in the room helping to create policy.
But Deb has a really interesting story.
MS. TUMULTY: Well, Congresswoman Haaland, I'd love to hear that, because one of the things that I've heard you mention before is the power of representation, you know, not seeing other people like yourself in these jobs, that--you were 28 years old before it even occurred to you to think about going to college. So, let's hear your story.
REP. HAALAND: Right. Well, that's not unusual in Indian country, right? Neither one of my parents graduated from college. So, it wasn't something that was sort of handed down to me, you know, from a family.
But you know, in 2002, it was evident that the Native American vote made a difference in South Dakota. They helped the Democratic senator to be elected. And you know, election night, they thought that he had lost, and by the time the votes from the Indian precincts came in the next day, Tim Johnson had won his Senate seat. That inspired me to believe that the Indian vote matters.
So, I just started--I love the clip about Sharice talking about voting, you know, when this live event started, because we have--Native Americans, we didn't get to vote along with everyone else in New Mexico--we didn't vote--we weren't able to vote until 1948, when Miguel Trujillo came back from World War II after fighting for our country and realized that he didn't have a say in our elections and he sued the State of New Mexico, as he very well should have.
And so, I just felt at one point in my life, I said, "I just want more Native Americans to vote." And that's how I started, walking into campaign offices, asking for lists of Native Americans and sitting in a corner and making phone calls. That turned into me showing up in Indian country all over New Mexico. And then, I worked for the Obama campaign for both elections, and then I ended up running--I ran for lieutenant governor in 2014 because I thought that would inspire voters to get out to vote, and then decided to run for the State Chair of New Mexico, the Democratic State Chair.
So, it was a long journey between, you know, the first time I started phone volunteering and the time I won my election and was sworn into Congress with Sharice Davids, but I feel like it was a road that was well traveled.
MS. TUMULTY: And your early career was as a small business woman. You had a salsa company and you were a cake decorator. I mean, it's quite a leap from there.
REP. HAALAND: Absolutely. Well, the cake decorating, you know, that was my first job in high school, was working in an independently owned bakery. I used to walk to the bakery every day after school.
You know, my dad was--he was the dad who said, "I'm not giving you any money. If you want money, you have to work for it." And so, we all got jobs as teenagers, and so, the bakery was my very first job. And even though I felt like my parents had taught me a work ethic, it was honed by Mr. Zinn [phonetic] in the bakery.
So, I feel like, you know, just like Sharice's early training in martial arts helped her, I feel like, you know, my work ethic that was honed in the bakery--because that's a lot of hard work, people don't realize. That helped me as well, right? It takes a tremendous work ethic to run for office, no matter who you are. It's not an easy task. And so, you know, perseverance, endurance, all of those things, they come into play when you're running for office. And I feel like every experience I've had during my lifetime has helped me, you know, to be where I am today.
MS. TUMULTY: Well, so, both of you come to office in January 2019, on this wave of euphoria for Democrats. The most diverse House we've ever seen, more women than we have ever seen, but you and your first term confronted with an enormous challenge, which is the COVID-19 epidemic, and one that has hit communities, and particularly Native American communities, harder than most of the country. Could you talk a little bit about that, why that is and were you surprised and do you think Washington has really understood the devastation?
REP. DAVIDS: Well, so, I'll start. First, I think that there is a lot of educating that needs to happen around the structural issues that Native communities face, the long complex history of this country, and why we're in situations that we're in on tribal communities.
You know, some of the impacts that we're seeing, the disproportionate impacts of the coronavirus pandemic have to do with consistent underfunding of the Indian Health Service or investments in infrastructure in Indian country, investments and funding for urban Indian health centers. There are a number of things that have compounded over the years that have led to a point where a pandemic that's really putting a stress test on lots of places in our country has really highlighted and, in some instances, exacerbated the issues that we're seeing.
And I think that when it comes to, does Washington understand what's going on in tribal communities, I think the baseline is, no, but that what we've got is tons of tribal leaders out there and advocates from Native communities showing up and trying to make sure that policymakers understand what's going on.
And I think that one of the most amazing things about getting to serve in Congress alongside Deb and as colleagues with members of Congress and peers, is that we really have the opportunity to really educate--as much as possible, to educate our colleagues and their teams about really why we're in the place that we're in, and why it's so important to fulfill the responsibilities that the federal government has to tribal governments. And I think that, you know--I think that that's probably one of the most impactful things about having the first two Native women serving in Congress.
MS. TUMULTY: Congresswoman Haaland, I mean, what do you think that Washington should have learned from all of this?
REP. HAALAND: You know, what I'm thinking about right now is the fact that when we were working on one of our first, you know, COVID packages that the administration didn't want to give any money to Indian tribes. We--you know, a lot of us got on the phone to say this needs to happen. Tribes need to have their funding package set aside for them, so that they--because they know their communities better than anybody. And so, we were able to get an $8 billion package in, in the CARES Act for Indian tribes.
And everything Sharice said, yes, Indian country suffers disparities because of decades and decades and decades of underfunding because the U.S. hasn't lived up to its trust responsibilities. So, we have definitely--have a long way to go. And what I'll say is this term, the 116th Congress, we got sworn in during a government shutdown. And then, you know, now we're dealing with this COVID-19 crisis, both, you know, health and economic crisis that will take us a long time to remedy. So, it has been a challenge. I really wish right now that the Senate would understand how dire things are for the American people. It's--yes, it's Indian country, but yes, it's communities of color across the country, and folks who can't pay their rent and don't have health care and--it's a devastating situation, and hoping that they will come to their senses about it.
MS. TUMULTY: So, what do you think is the outlook here, as, you know, Congress is under a really tight deadline now to come up with another aid package to--also to prevent the government from shutting down. Are you optimistic or pessimistic that the Republican Senate and the Democratic House and the president who hasn't conceded an election defeat are going to manage to get their acts together in all of this?
REP. DAVIDS: I feel like I always have to be optimistic, right? I mean, I have to always feel like there's hope. If you lose hope, then what's the sense of moving forward, right?
So, I'm going to remain optimistic. I'm going to keep--you know, keep pushing these issues forward. And yes, it's amazing. I'm still amazed that the Senate Majority Leader really doesn't want to get a COVID package passed. It's astounding to me.
MS. TUMULTY: Well, Congresswoman Davids, are you seeing any actual evidence or reason to be optimistic at this point?
REP. DAVIDS: Well, you know, it's interesting when you were asking about whether or not we're optimistic or pessimistic. And I think first of all I'm an optimistic person. You have to be to be someone who would run for Congress, I think. But also, you know, hearing Deb talk about staying optimistic, I think optimism and faith in people is part of what we need more of.
I think that, right now, we have a situation where, if we don't get a COVID relief package done, everybody suffers. And my hope is that our Republican colleagues in the Senate, Mitch McConnell included, will see that it doesn't do anybody any good for him to hold out and not stay at the negotiating table. Everybody in this country is suffering right now. The pandemic has impacted our entire lives, every single person in some way or another. And that pain and suffering that's going on right now, we can't solve every single thing with one coronavirus relief package, but we can bring some level of relief to people, whether it's unemployment relief, whether it's getting resources to our state and local governments so they can perform the essential government functions that they need to perform.
And I am--I will remain cautiously optimistic that we can get something done. We have done it multiple times before this, and I think we can do it again. You know, Deb and I would not be here serving in Congress if we weren't people full of hope and optimism and faith in other people.
MS. TUMULTY: So, Congresswoman Davids, so what's your bet? Government shutdown tonight or not?
REP. DAVIDS: So, I don't think we'll have a government shutdown.
MS. TUMULTY: You know, there's great hope on the horizon, as well, since we're talking about being optimistic, in that vaccines are coming to market. And there has been a proposal among advocates for Native Americans in California that one of the criteria that should be looked at in deciding who gets to get the vaccine first is historic injustice. Do you think that is a valid criterion at this point? California, of course, is a state that just turned down an initiative on the ballot to bring back affirmative action.
Congresswoman Haaland, how do you think the vaccine distribution should be--should be run?
REP. HAALAND: Right. Well, of course, frontline workers, I think we can all agree on that and our--you know, our elderly folks. I have an 85-year-old mother who I know is very vulnerable to this disease. Luckily, she's been in a safe place.
But when you think about historic injustice, it is--it's still happening, right? So, these are communities who live in polluted areas. These are communities who haven't had health care. These are communities who suffer from violence and racial injustice, and all of these things. So, yes, they've suffered historical injustice, but there's still--these communities are still suffering.
What this pandemic has done is highlighted the disparities that so many of these communities have endured for decades and decades and decades. So, it just happens that, yes, they are historically--suffered historical injustice, but they are the most vulnerable communities even still in the year 2020. So, when we're thinking about how we distribute the vaccine, I absolutely feel like the most vulnerable communities absolutely need to be considered.
MS. TUMULTY: And Congresswoman Davids, are you concerned that, given the specific history of Native American communities, especially when it comes to infectious disease agents being brought into their midst, are you worried that people might be afraid to take the vaccine, might be leery of something that comes to them with the help of the United States Government?
REP. DAVIDS: Well, I certainly think there's a historic context here that's going to be hard to avoid. And that means that what we have to do as, you know, the federal government and then our state governments that are going to help distribute the vaccine and are going to be coming up with a plan, that we have to make sure that we are communicating as much as possible that these vaccines have gone through rigorous testing, that they've been approved through a rigorous process, and also that they're being distributed in an equitable way.
And I think that the more we can communicate with people about the effectiveness of these vaccines, the more likely it is that we're going to--that we're going to see a large uptake. And you know, I'm feeling very encouraged that we're--that we are on--that these vaccines are on the horizon and that, you know, we're going to be able to start getting them distributed. But at the end of the day, the way that we build up trust with tribal communities or by any communities is by actually just showing up and listening and talking to folks in communities that have been historically erased from all these processes.
MS. TUMULTY: Well, in the few moments we have left, I would like to bring up a question that was posed by one of our viewers, Kathleen Healy, of California, who wrote to us, "We have talked this year about the importance of being allies to Black Americans; that should continue. How can we be allies to Native Americans?"
Congresswoman Davids, let's start with you.
REP. DAVIDS: Well, so, first of all, I appreciate this question. I think that it's really important for all of us to make sure that we're figuring out ways to show up for--particularly for Black folks during this--at all times, but during this time that we're seeing--Deb mentioned it earlier, the pandemic has exacerbated so many longstanding issues that we have. And certainly, the conversation--the mainstream conversation that's going on right now about racial justice is super important. We need it to continue so that we can have a more just and fair society.
And I think when it comes to issues of ally-ship or showing up for tribal and Native communities, there's a few things that I would encourage folks to do. One is to make sure you're not thinking about tribal people, Native folks, Indigenous communities only in a historical context. It is very important that people learn and understand the long, complex history of this country. But it's also important to recognize that there are issues that are going on right now. The murdered and missing Indigenous women issue, issues around access to health care and mental and behavioral health care access, those kinds of things are really important that are happening right now.
But there's also a lot of beauty and resilience and amazing stuff going on in tribal communities. And I just would encourage people to also think about that. Please don't only think about the negative issues that are impacting tribal communities, but also think about the beauty and resilience that is present in our tribal communities, as well.
MS. TUMULTY: How about you, Congresswoman Haaland?
REP. HAALAND: I mean, the first thing, I echo everything that Sharice said. But I mean, look, this past election year, there were more Native American candidates running for offices across the country than I think any time before, and not just for Congress, for city councils and county commissions, and House legislate--you know, state legislatures and so forth. Support Native American candidates. Help--you know, donate money to their campaigns, volunteer for phone banks. Help make us be representative of the communities that we serve.
When more people are at the table--when Native Americans have a seat at the table, then we get to talk about our issues, and we get to talk about all the things that Sharice mentioned. So, don't forget that we need representation. And so, there's always going to be opportunities to help Native candidates to win their elections.
And Sharice also mentioned invisibility. That is always an issue. Folks think--you know, they don't think about the fact that Indian communities are vibrant and here and, you know, that we deserve a seat at the table. So, just make sure that we are in the conversation and that's absolutely helpful.
MS. TUMULTY: Well, unfortunately, that is all the time we have today, but I really like to thank both of you for taking the time in a very busy time to spend a few moments with us.
REP. HAALAND: Thank you.
REP. DAVIDS: Thank you so much. It's good to be here.
MS. TUMULTY: We hope to see you again.
Join us Monday at 11:00 a.m. for our next Race in America conversation with former Attorneys General Loretta Lynch and Alberto Gonzalez on criminal justice reform and where we go in our--next in our country's racial reckoning.
I'm Karen Tumulty, and thank you for being with us today on Post Live.
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