Carol Moseley Braun, the first Black female senator, eyes interior secretary post – Washington Post

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Former senator Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.), an early supporter of Joe Biden’s bid for the presidency, said she would like to serve as his interior secretary.

“It’s just a natural fit for me,” said Moseley Braun, who became the first Black woman to serve in the U.S. Senate when she was elected to a single term in 1992. In a phone interview Monday, she noted that she first became interested in politics after fighting to preserve habitat for the bobolink, a native Illinois bird, in Chicago’s Jackson Park.

Moseley Braun — who became U.S. ambassador to New Zealand at the end of Bill Clinton’s second term — would be an unconventional pick. She has relatively little experience in environmental policy or public lands. And Westerners have occupied the post for more than 120 years, with the single exception of Rogers Morton, who served under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

But the former senator is close with Biden, having served with him on the Senate Judiciary Committee and stumped for him on the campaign trail over the past year. Biden recruited her to serve on the Judiciary Committee after the panel came under fire for its handling of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s nomination, and she defended Biden this year when he came under attack for his work on the 1994 crime bill.

Moseley Braun said she told Biden a week before the election that she would like to serve in his administration, and she said she sent her résumé to Steve Ricchetti, whom the president-elect has selected as White House counselor.

“All I’ve done is let them know I’d like to be of service,” she said, adding that she has not pushed for a specific appointment, even though interior secretary would be her first choice. “I’m not going to get into an elbow fight or knife fight with anybody over this stuff. I know there’s intense competition.”

Biden’s transition team declined to comment.

There are two leading contenders for the post of interior secretary, both New Mexico Democrats: Rep. Deb Haaland, who would be the first Native American to hold the job, and retiring Sen. Tom Udall, whose father served as secretary from 1961 to 1969. Michael L. Connor, who served as deputy interior secretary during Barack Obama’s second term and is a member of the Taos Pueblo tribe, is also under consideration, along with Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).

Moseley Braun, who started the now-defunct company Good Food Organics a decade and a half ago, said she has been interested in environmental issues for years, though she did not focus on them while serving in the Senate. If selected, she said, she would focus on addressing the spread of the novel coronavirus throughout Indigenous communities, remedying the maintenance backlog and infrastructure needs at the National Park Service, and rebuilding the department’s workforce.

Tackling climate change, she said, would inform all of her actions.

“Climate change is the existential threat; that’s the challenge for our generation,” said Moseley Braun, who is 73. “If we don’t do something about that, we are failing the next generation.”

Though Moseley Braun arrived on the national stage in the early 1990s with fanfare, she lost her reelection bid in 1998 after becoming embroiled in several controversies. She made more than a half-dozen trips to Nigeria while it was under the rule of dictator Sani Abacha, and came under fire for hiring her then-fiance, Kgosie Matthews, as her campaign manager.

“Why wouldn’t I go to Africa? I was the only Black person in the Senate,” Moseley Braun said, adding that she hired a lawyer to look into sexual harassment allegations against Matthews but could find no evidence of such conduct.

She was never charged with criminal wrongdoing but was defeated by a conservative Republican, Peter Fitzgerald, in 1998.

Matt Viser contributed to this report.

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November 25, 2020 at 07:35AM

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