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Kennedy apologizes for calling Haaland a 'whack job'

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) apologized Thursday for calling Rep. Deb HaalandDeb HaalandOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Dakota Access pipeline to remain in operation despite calls for shutdown | Biden hopes to boost climate spending by B | White House budget proposes .4B for environmental justice Haaland return sets up Biden decision on Utah national monuments shrunk by Trump Biden hopes to boost climate spending by billion MORE (D-N.M.), President BidenJoe BidenBiden eyes bigger US role in global vaccination efforts Trump says GOP will take White House in 2024 in prepared speech Kemp: Pulling All-Star game out of Atlanta will hurt business owners of color MORE’s nominee for Interior Secretary, a “whack job.”

Kennedy called Haaland a “a neo-socialist, left-of-Lenin whack job” Wednesday in remarks to reporters. On Thursday he apologized in an interview with Politico.

“I apologize. I was searching for a word for extremist, which I think is more neutral,“ Kennedy told the publication. “And I should have said extremist. I never should have said whack job.“

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The Louisiana senator’s apology comes shortly after Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinClose the avenues of foreign meddling Democrats see political winner in tax fight MSNBC's Joy Reid pans Manchin, Sinema as the 'no progress caucus' MORE (D-W.V.), who was reportedly unsure of whether to back Haaland, announced he will support her nomination, likely assuring she will be confirmed.

“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,” Manchin said in a statement Wednesday.

Haaland, who would be the first indigenous Senate-confirmed cabinet secretary, has strong backing among the Democratic party’s progressive wing. However, western Republicans have attacked her record on energy issues, including Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesTrump faces test of power with early endorsements OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Supreme Court declines to hear challenge to Obama marine monument designation | Interior reverses course on tribal ownership of portion of Missouri river | White House climate adviser meets with oil and gas companies Senate GOP pushes back on list of participants in oil and gas leasing forum MORE (R-Mt.), who accused her of having a “very concerning” record on energy and natural resources.

Manchin confirmed he will back Haaland's nomination shortly after he said he would not support the nomination of Neera TandenNeera TandenFive ways an obscure Senate ruling could change Washington 2024 GOP White House hopefuls lead opposition to Biden Cabinet White House delays release of budget plan MORE, Biden’s nominee for Director of Budget and Management.

Nearly every moderate Senate Republican has also said they will vote against Tanden, putting the likelihood of her nomination in peril.

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The question marks around both Haaland’s and Tanden’s nominations have sparked criticism from Democrats who noted that both are women of color.

In an op-ed this week, former Sens. Tom (D-N.M.) and Mark UdallMark Emery UdallKennedy apologizes for calling Haaland a 'whack job' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Haaland courts moderates during tense confirmation hearing | GOP's Westerman looks to take on Democrats on climate change | White House urges passage of House public lands package Udalls: Haaland criticism motivated 'by something other than her record' MORE (D-Colo.) wrote that Haaland’s views are within the mainstream for a Democrat from a western state, and that allegations of radicalism are “motivated by something other than her record.”

The Hill has reached out to Haaland’s and Kennedy’s offices for comment.