Senate confirms Zinke to lead Interior

Senate confirms Zinke to lead Interior
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The Senate voted Wednesday to confirm Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) to be President Trump’s secretary of Interior.

The final vote tally was 68-31, with 16 Democrats joining all Republicans to support Zinke. He needed a simple majority to be approved.

The former Navy SEAL will now lead the 70,000-employee department with a wide range of responsibilities, from overseeing wide swaths of federal land to supervising offshore drilling and managing the government’s relationships with American Indian tribes.

Zinke will also be responsible for implementing President Trump’s policies at Interior, like a dramatic increase in fossil fuel development on federal land and a rollback of many of former President Obama’s climate change policies.

Trump is expected soon to issue an executive order repealing the Obama administration’s moratorium on new federal land leases for coal mining. Zinke is responsible for those leases, and has come out strongly against Obama’s moratorium.

The incoming secretary had an easy confirmation process relative to some of Trump’s other cabinet nominees, owing in part to his moderate stance on many policy questions at Interior.

At his confirmation hearing, Zinke endorsed long-held Republican policies like allowing more oil and natural gas drilling. But he also came out strongly in favor of conservation priorities that Democrats hold dear, and promised to oppose large-scale transfers of federal land to state or private interests.

That earned him the support of some major conservation groups that usually align with Democrats, like the National Wildlife Federation and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

Still, major environmental groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace opposed him, citing in large part his goals to increase drilling and mining.

Zinke told senators that he believes climate change is happening and humans contribute, but he isn’t sure of the extent of the human impact.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiGOP senator defends funding Planned Parenthood GOP at decisive moment on Planned Parenthood GOP Medicaid cuts will be disastrous for millions with Alzheimer’s MORE (R-Alaska), chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Zinke understands the importance of conservation, multiple uses of federal land, energy development and the unique needs of westerns states that overwhelmingly host federal land.

“He was born in the West. He lives in the West. He understands it. He understands its people,” Murkowski said on the Senate floor.

“He’s also shown that he understands the needs for the department to be a partner and to be a partner for Alaska and our western states, which, again, contain the vast majority of our federal lands,” she continued.

“I believe that Rep. Zinke is an excellent choice to be our next secretary of the Interior.”

Sen. Maria CantwellMaria CantwellDems push for more action on power grid cybersecurity Overnight Regulation: Labor groups fear rollback of Obama worker protection rule | Trump regs czar advances in Senate | New FCC enforcement chief Dems urge Sessions to reject AT&T-Time Warner merger MORE (D-Wash.), the Energy Committee’s top Democrat, applauded Zinke and welcomed much of what he told the panel.

But she said Trump’s policy plans for Interior — like increase fossil fuel development and rolling back land protections — would be disastrous, and Cantwell said Zinke showed no desire to push back against those.

“I’m not convinced that Congressman Zinke will be able to moderate the Trump administration’s extreme views on exploiting our public lands and i'm not sure you he will be able to stand up to the president and protect the public interest that is required on our public lands and manage for the benefit of all Americans, not just the oil and gas and mining companies and their commercial interests,” she said.

“We need an Interior secretary capable of standing up to the president to make preserving our public lands a priority, but during my meeting with nominee Zinke, his confirmation hearings and before the Energy and Natural Resources Committee on which I sit and his record as a member of congress, I did not receive the assurances and commitments I needed to support his confirmation as Interior secretary.”

Zinke, who the GOP had eyed to run for the Senate next year against Sen. Jon TesterJon TesterOvernight Regulation: Labor groups fear rollback of Obama worker protection rule | Trump regs czar advances in Senate | New FCC enforcement chief Trump's 'regulatory czar' advances in Senate Gianforte causes stir after becoming newest House member MORE (D-Mont.) before his cabinet nomination, plans to resign from his House seat before he is sworn in.

Fifteen Democrats joined Sen. Angus KingAngus KingElection hacking fears turn heat on Homeland Security Zinke hits Dems for delaying Interior nominees Angus King: I’m sure Flynn will 'appear before the committee one way or another' MORE (I-Maine) and all of the Republicans in voting for Zinke: Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod BrownDems push for more action on power grid cybersecurity Senate Banking panel huddles with regulators on bank relief Overnight Regulation: Labor groups fear rollback of Obama worker protection rule | Trump regs czar advances in Senate | New FCC enforcement chief MORE (Ohio), Chris CoonsChris CoonsOvernight Regulation: Labor groups fear rollback of Obama worker protection rule | Trump regs czar advances in Senate | New FCC enforcement chief Overnight Tech: Uber CEO resigns | Trump's Iowa tech trip | Dems push Sessions to block AT&T-Time Warner deal | Lawmakers warned on threat to election systems | Senate Dem offers patent reform bill MORE (Del.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Joe DonnellyJoe DonnellyLawmakers sport LSU gear at baseball game in honor of Scalise Senate votes to continue arming Saudis As Yemenis suffer the consequences Overnight Defense: Mattis defends Trump budget | Senate rejects effort to block Saudi deal | Boeing to cut 50 executive jobs MORE (Ind.), Martin HeinrichMartin HeinrichDems push for more action on power grid cybersecurity The Memo: Five takeaways from Jeff Sessions’s testimony Overnight Cybersecurity: Sessions denies Russia collusion | First agency gets 'A' grade on IT | Feds out North Korean botnet | Unusual security update for Windows XP MORE (N.M.), Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampSenate Dem undecided on 2018 reelection run Trump ‘regulatory czar’: Two-for-one rule can work Congress should just say no to more green energy handouts MORE (N.D.), Tim KaineTim KaineLive coverage: Senate Dems hold talkathon to protest GOP health plan Trump supporter who lost tight Va. governor primary weighs Senate run Northam defeats Sanders-backed candidate in Va. gov primary MORE (Va.), Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSenate Republicans reluctant to rush vote on healthcare bill Manchin: Senate can do 'an awful lot' to improve healthcare bill Sunday shows preview: Senate healthcare debate heats up MORE (W.Va.), Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillSenators question need for HHS cyber office Overnight Cybersecurity: Obama DHS chief defends Russian hack response | Trump huddles on grid security | Lawmakers warned about cyber threat to election systems We must protect our most vulnerable from financial fraudsters MORE (Mo.), Chris MurphyChris MurphyDems push for more action on power grid cybersecurity Senate panel demands Trump's legal rationale for shooting Syrian jet Dems limited in their ability to slow ObamaCare vote MORE (Conn.), Bill NelsonBill NelsonSenate panel unveils aviation bill with consumer protections, drone fix Driverless cars speed onto political agenda Biden leaves options on table for another White House bid MORE (Fla.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Tom UdallTom UdallDems, greens press Trump administration on methane rewrites Overnight Regulation: House passes bill to roll back Dodd-Frank | Sage grouse back in the spotlight | GOP chair won't back Glass-Steagall revival Overnight Tech: FCC disputes reporter's account of 'manhandling' incident | Verizon to cut 2K jobs at Yahoo | Russians used spyware on Instagram | Virginia moves on 5G networks MORE (N.M.), Mark WarnerMark WarnerElection hacking fears turn heat on Homeland Security Are Democrats trying to pin the blame for their own sins on Russia? Policymakers forget duty to protect taxpayers from financial failures MORE (Va.) and Ron WydenRon WydenElection hacking fears turn heat on Homeland Security Commerce secretary spoiled Treasury secretary’s secret wedding: report Dems push for more action on power grid cybersecurity MORE (Ore.).

- Updated at 11:15 a.m.