Senate confirms Zinke to lead Interior

Senate confirms Zinke to lead Interior
© Getty

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 MurkowskiFeds to sell 14 million barrels from oil reserve Immigration battlefield widens for Trump, GOP Trump barrage stuns McConnell and his allies 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 Elaine CantwellDemocrats demand changes to FCC Republican nominee's confirmation Bipartisanship? It's happening to secure America's energy future Senate confirms Trump's nominee for No. 2 Interior post 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 TesterWhy 'cherry-picking' is the solution to our nation’s flood insurance disaster Trump signs Veterans Affairs bill at New Jersey golf club It's time for McConnell to fight with Trump instead of against him 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 Stanley KingSen. King: If Trump fires Mueller, Congress would pass veto-proof special prosecutor statute Senate heading for late night ahead of ObamaCare repeal showdown Overnight Healthcare: Four GOP senators threaten to block 'skinny' repeal | Healthcare groups blast skinny repeal | GOP single-payer amendment fails in Senate MORE (I-Maine) and all of the Republicans in voting for Zinke: Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownOvernight Finance: House passes spending bill with border wall funds | Ryan drops border tax idea | Russia sanctions bill goes to Trump's desk | Dems grill bank regulator picks Dems grill Trump bank regulator nominees Senate Dems launch talkathon ahead of ObamaCare repeal vote MORE (Ohio), Chris CoonsChris CoonsWill Congress preserve monopoly power for healthcare lobbyists? Savings through success in foreign assistance Sunday shows preview: Senators tout bill to protect Mueller MORE (Del.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Joe DonnellyJoe DonnellyTrump's Democratic tax dilemma FEC 'reform' a smokescreen to weaponize government against free speech It's time for McConnell to fight with Trump instead of against him MORE (Ind.), Martin HeinrichMartin HeinrichWhat veterans have to lose in Trump’s national monument review Senators fight proposed tariffs on solar panels Economy adds impressive 209K jobs in July MORE (N.M.), Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampTrump's Democratic tax dilemma It's time for McConnell to fight with Trump instead of against him The real litmus test is whether pro-life democrats vote for pro-life legislation MORE (N.D.), Tim KaineTim Kaine Violent white nationalist protests prompt state of emergency in Virginia Republicans will get their comeuppance in New Jersey, Virginia Spicer signs deal with top TV lawyer: report MORE (Va.), Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOPINION | 5 ways Democrats can win back power in the states Trump's Democratic tax dilemma Manchin eyed as potential pick for Energy secretary: report MORE (W.Va.), Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillSenators push for possible FCC enforcement over Lifeline fraud Democrat senator: Trump has elevated Kim Jong-Un to the world stage It's time for McConnell to fight with Trump instead of against him MORE (Mo.), Chris MurphyChris MurphyDem senator: Trump team has no idea how to handle North Korea crisis Trump admin not opposed to new war authorization Dem senator: Trump has sent signal that Russia has free rein MORE (Conn.), Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonThe five kinds of Republicans who could primary Trump Overnight Tech: Senate confirms two FCC commissioners | Dems want more time on net neutrality | Tech groups push White House on 'startup visa' Senate confirms two new FCC commissioners MORE (Fla.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Tom UdallTom UdallWhat veterans have to lose in Trump’s national monument review Overnight Energy: House passes Russia sanctions deal with oil, gas fix Dem bill would ban controversial pesticide MORE (N.M.), Mark WarnerMark WarnerTrump declares 'racism is evil' after firestorm How the New South became a swing region How to fix Fannie and Freddie to give Americans affordable housing MORE (Va.) and Ron WydenRon WydenTrump's Democratic tax dilemma Senate Dems push Trump admin to protect nursing home residents' right to sue Overnight Finance: Trump-Russia probe reportedly expands to possible financial crimes | Cruel September looms for GOP | Senate clears financial nominees | Mulvaney reverses on debt ceiling MORE (Ore.).

- Updated at 11:15 a.m.