DULUTH — In an interview with Forum News Service, U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber addressed his interest in the governorship of Minnesota, and described a “really good working relationship” with the five tribes in his district, saying he articulated to them his opposition to a history-making Native American presidential cabinet nominee.

“I have personally spoken to our tribal leaders, and I’ve heard them out on this issue,” Stauber said during the Wednesday, Feb. 17, interview. “They know that I remain committed to working with them and continuing to build upon the strong relationship that we’ve developed.”

But the local Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa disputed the congressman’s claims, saying Stauber, R-Hermantown, does not communicate with them in any meaningful way, and called his efforts “failure.”

Through its spokesperson, the band said Stauber declined an offer to sit down with its leadership council to discuss U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland's nomination to be President Joe Biden’s interior secretary overseeing federal lands and natural resources.

U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for the Interior Secretary, speaks after Biden announced her nomination among another round of nominees and appointees for his administration in Wilmington, Delaware, on Dec. 19.  (REUTERS / Kevin Lamarque)
U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for the Interior Secretary, speaks after Biden announced her nomination among another round of nominees and appointees for his administration in Wilmington, Delaware, on Dec. 19. (REUTERS / Kevin Lamarque)

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Confirmation would make Haaland the first Native American to serve on a presidential cabinet.

When the Fond du Lac Band offered to have Stauber meet in person with its Reservation Business Committee, Stauber’s office told the band he was “only available for one-on-one phone calls,” Fond du Lac spokeswoman Rita Aspinwall said.

The band declined phone calls with Stauber.

“In Representative Stauber’s years in office, he has failed to give the courtesy of notifying the band of any proposal directly impacting the tribes,” Aspinwall said in a written statement. “His office has failed to set up tribal consultations on a quarterly basis. Ultimately, he has failed to consult with Minnesota tribes on various matters affecting Indian Country.”

Stauber's office described Fond du Lac and Bois Forte leadership as having declined to talk, saying the congressman has read joint and individual tribal letters on the matter, and spoken with tribal lobbyists as well as executives from the Mille Lacs and Leech Lake bands of Ojibwe, and the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

"The congressman has an open-door policy and looks forward to talking with tribal leadership any time they are willing," Stauber spokeswoman Kelsey Mix said.

Stauber, who represents Minnesota's 8th Congressional District, supports pipeline expansion and the advent of copper-nickel mining in Northeastern Minnesota — causes opposed by Haaland and many other Native Americans.

Stauber and Haaland, D-N.M., serve together on the House of Representatives' Natural Resources Committee.

He distrusts her politics, and described her as “very, very radical,” a term he often uses for Democratic colleagues.

In January, he wrote a letter to the White House calling for the withdrawal of Haaland's nomination despite the fact that the five tribes in his district were supportive, elated even, with Haaland’s nomination as Biden’s interior secretary.

Haaland’s confirmation hearing is next week.

Stauber said he couldn’t “turn a blind eye” to Haaland's support for the clean energy legislation known as the Green New Deal, or her positions against pipelines and copper-nickel mining, though Stauber incorrectly presents Haaland as opposed to mining in general.

“I can’t turn a blind eye to her having joined pipeline protestors, and she opposes fracking and drilling on public lands,” Stauber said. “She has championed legislation that would halt mining in Northeastern Minnesota. Mining is a bridge to a better future.”

He said he wrote his letter in January in hopes the Biden administration would have nominated someone who “recognized we could both preserve our environment and responsibly develop the resources that power our economy.”

On Trump, Minnesota governorship

During the interview, Stauber declined to say if he’d be supportive of a political future for twice-impeached former President Donald Trump, calling it “hypothetical.”

“I have no idea what President Trump is going to do as a private citizen,” said Stauber, an ardent Trump supporter. “Until such time, I can’t make a decision.”

Stauber also took on whether he would run for the governorship of Minnesota, instead of Congress, during the 2022 midterm elections.

U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber
U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber

“I’m literally humbled to have my name mentioned,” he said, refusing to deny the internet rumor that he'll run for governor. “There’s a lot of conversations that need to be had. I’ll never say never. I’m keeping all options open, but I was just reelected, and I have a great opportunity to represent the constituents of the 8th District in Congress.”

When he first ran for Congress, Stauber announced his candidacy a full 16 months prior to the 2018 election.

Stauber says he opposes Gov. Tim Walz’s ongoing emergency authority during the COVID-19 pandemic. The state's Democratic-led state House has denied Republican attempts to end the peacetime emergency.

“We’re going on 11 months of a governor who refuses to relinquish his emergency powers,” Stauber said, adding that it was time to let state legislators join in pandemic solutions.

Stauber cited the Minnesota Hospital Association’s criticism in a letter sent last week to Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. It said not enough vaccine doses were reaching health care providers and that the allocation process had reached an “untenable crossroads.”

“We’re seeing mistakes made by this administration,” Stauber said.

Stauber has been facing roadblocks of his own in the U.S. Congress, where he’s repeatedly complained in news releases about a lack of bipartisanship, and how his contributions on things such as proposed legislation for police reform have been blocked from seeing the House floor.

“The Democrats have very little motivation to work in a bipartisan manner,” he said. “When Joe Biden pledged unity during the inaugural address, I feel at this moment he’s not lived up to that promise thus far.”

Stauber pointed to Biden’s 31 executive orders to date, repeating a legislative workaround popularized in recent history by his predecessors in the Oval Office.

“When you have the House, Senate and White House, you would think you’d want to put forth legislation through the proper channels,” Stauber said of the Democratic majorities.

He expressed dissatisfaction with the Biden-led $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief proposal, which Democrats have said they may move without GOP support.

"Every other package for COVID relief for the American people has been bipartisan," Stauber said.

Stauber noted his assignments to three committees, including small business, transportation and infrastructure, and the House’s Natural Resources Committee, where this week he was appointed ranking member of the subcommittee on energy and mining resources.

“They’re relative to our district,” Stauber said of his assignments, adding that he was excited to be one of the few people in Congress with more than two committee assignments.