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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 MurkowskiGOP confidence grows on Kavanaugh Senate panel schedules Friday morning vote for Kavanaugh Overnight Energy — Sponsored by the National Biodiesel Board — Texas coal plant to shut down | Macron rejects trade deals with climate pact outsiders | Vote on park funding bills to miss deadline 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 CantwellOvernight Energy — Sponsored by the National Biodiesel Board — Texas coal plant to shut down | Macron rejects trade deals with climate pact outsiders | Vote on park funding bills to miss deadline Senate panel eyes vote on parks funding bills after key deadline Partisan politics at independent agency draws bipartisan rebuke 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) TesterOn The Money: US trade chief casts doubt on Canada joining new deal | House panel invites Watt accuser to testify | Brady defends GOP message on tax cuts Poll: Tester leads GOP challenger by 4 in Montana Montana GOP Senate candidate's office dropped fines against donor: report 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 KingA Senator Gary Johnson could be good not just for Libertarians, but for the Senate too Restoring our national parks would be a bipartisan win for Congress Restore our parks MORE (I-Maine) and all of the Republicans in voting for Zinke: Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSherrod Brown says he's 'not actively considering' running for president Election Countdown: Trump confident about midterms in Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh controversy tests candidates | Sanders, Warren ponder if both can run | Super PACs spending big | Two states open general election voting Friday | Latest Senate polls Overnight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens MORE (Ohio), Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsGOP senator defends hiring sex-crimes prosecutor for Kavanaugh hearing Coons says Senate may know more about Kavanugh's social life than Bush-era legal work Judiciary Democrat calls for additional witnesses to testify on Kavanaugh MORE (Del.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyThis week: Kavanaugh nomination thrown into further chaos Doug Jones to McConnell: Don't 'plow right through' with Kavanaugh The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh MORE (Ind.), Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichA Senator Gary Johnson could be good not just for Libertarians, but for the Senate too Election Countdown: What to watch in final primaries | Dems launch M ad buy for Senate races | Senate seats most likely to flip | Trump slump worries GOP | Koch network's new super PAC Rand Paul endorses Gary Johnson's Senate bid MORE (N.M.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampCramer questions if allegations should disqualify Kavanaugh ‘even if it’s all true’ Heitkamp highlights anti-human trafficking bill in new ad Midterm polling data favors Democrats — in moderation MORE (N.D.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDem lawmaker trolls Trump over reception of UN speech Trump: Boasting line in UN speech was 'meant to get some laughter' Kaine mocks Trump over UN laughter, resurfaces old tweet calling Obama a 'laughing stock' MORE (Va.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinThis week: Kavanaugh nomination thrown into further chaos GOP plays defense on ObamaCare’s pre-existing conditions Doug Jones to McConnell: Don't 'plow right through' with Kavanaugh MORE (W.Va.), Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillOvernight Health Care: Bill banning 'gag clauses' on drugs heads to Trump's desk | Romney opposes Utah Medicaid expansion | GOP candidate under fire over ad on pre-existing conditions GOP Senate candidate says he supports pre-existing conditions while backing lawsuit to end them Disclosures suggest rebates and insurers responsible for rising out-of-pocket drug costs MORE (Mo.), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDems push back on using federal funds to arm teachers Want to improve health care? Get Americans off of their couches Situation in Yemen should lead us to return to a constitutional foreign policy MORE (Conn.), Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonPoll: Nelson running even against Scott in Florida senate race Poll: Nelson leads Scott by 7 points in Florida Midterm polling data favors Democrats — in moderation MORE (Fla.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallSenate Democrats increase pressure for FBI investigation of Kavanaugh Trump administration weakens methane pollution standards for drilling on public lands Senate Dems want DOJ review of Giuliani's work for foreign entities MORE (N.M.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenate panel eyes vote on parks funding bills after key deadline Key House Dem's objections stall intel bill as deadline looms Russia docs order sets Trump on collision with intel community MORE (Va.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOn The Money: US trade chief casts doubt on Canada joining new deal | House panel invites Watt accuser to testify | Brady defends GOP message on tax cuts Under attack: Because we don’t vote Republican Dems offer resolution to force vote to overturn IRS guidance limiting donor disclosure MORE (Ore.).

- Updated at 11:15 a.m.