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 Ann MurkowskiEmboldened Trump takes aim at GOP foes The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - DC prepares for Saturday of festivals & Jan. 6 demonstration Republican leaders misjudged Jan. 6 committee 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 CantwellDelta variant's spread hampers Labor Day air travel, industry recovery Wyden asks White House for details on jet fuel shortage amid wildfire season Air travel hits pandemic high 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 TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDemocrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Senate backers of new voting rights bill push for swift passage The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Polls open in California as Newsom fights for job 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 KingSenate backers of new voting rights bill push for swift passage Stacey Abrams backs Senate Democrats' voting rights compromise NY Democrat tests positive for COVID-19 in latest House breakthrough case MORE (I-Maine) and all of the Republicans in voting for Zinke: Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownAdvocates call on top Democrats for 0B in housing investments Democratic senators request probe into Amazon's treatment of pregnant employees Wyden releases new tax proposals as Democrats work on .5T bill MORE (Ohio), Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsBiden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict Senate Democrats to Garland: 'It's time to end the federal death penalty' Hillicon Valley: Cryptocurrency amendment blocked in Senate | Dems press Facebook over suspension of researchers' accounts | Thousands push back against Apple plan to scan US iPhones for child sexual abuse images MORE (Del.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyRepublicans may regret restricting reproductive rights Sanders traveling to Iowa, Indiana to pitch Biden's spending package Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda MORE (Ind.), Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichOvernight Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Schneider Electric — Deadly Ida floodwaters grip southeast US David Sirota: Seven Democrats who voted against fracking ban trying to secure future elections Deadly extreme heat has arrived: here's how policymakers can save lives MORE (N.M.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampProgressives prepare to launch counterattack in tax fight Business groups aim to divide Democrats on .5T spending bill On The Money: Powell signals Fed will soon cut stimulus MORE (N.D.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - What do Manchin and Sinema want? Warren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack MORE (Va.), Joe ManchinJoe ManchinBriahna Joy Gray: Push toward major social spending amid pandemic was 'short-lived' Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels Biden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week MORE (W.Va.), Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillRepublicans may regret restricting reproductive rights Sunday shows preview: States deal with fallout of Ida; Texas abortion law takes effect Giuliani to stump for Greitens in Missouri MORE (Mo.), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySenators slow Biden with holds at Pentagon, State Tell our troops: 'Your sacrifice wasn't in vain' Sunday shows preview: Bombing in Kabul delivers blow to evacuation effort; US orders strikes on ISIS-K MORE (Conn.), Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonHow will Biden's Afghanistan debacle impact NASA's Artemis return to the moon? Biden to talk Russia, anti-corruption with Ukraine's president Blue Origin's Jeff Bezos wages lawfare on NASA and SpaceX MORE (Fla.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Tom UdallTom UdallOvernight Defense: Milley reportedly warned Trump against Iran strikes | Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer killed in Afghanistan | 70 percent of active-duty military at least partially vaccinated Biden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Senate Democrats befuddled by Joe Manchin MORE (N.M.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerAdvocates call on top Democrats for 0B in housing investments Democrats draw red lines in spending fight Manchin puts foot down on key climate provision in spending bill MORE (Va.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenWant a clean energy future? Look to the tax code Democrats brace for toughest stretch yet with Biden agenda Lawmakers lay out arguments for boosting clean energy through infrastructure MORE (Ore.).
- Updated at 11:15 a.m.