Zinke picks fight with key Dem at an odd time

Rep. Raúl Grijalva is prepared to work with Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeFormer Koch adviser to oversee Interior Department's FOIA requests The Year Ahead: Dems under pressure to deliver on green agenda Trump attends Army-Navy game MORE, who on Friday tweeted that it is “hard” for the Arizona Democrat “to think straight from the bottom of the bottle.” 

Zinke’s public insult of the likely incoming chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee was both a sign of the times in President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Memo: Ayers decision casts harsh light on Trump NASA offers to show Stephen Curry evidence from moon landings Freedom Caucus calls on leadership to include wall funding, end to 'catch and release' in funding bill MORE’s Washington, and the kind of deeply personal jab that managed to turn heads.

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An oil industry lobbyist who’s been supportive of Zinke’s policies said the tweet didn’t benefit anyone, and he said it’s stirring more speculation that Zinke, who is under federal investigation for a number of alleged ethical breaches, may be planning to leave office soon.

Zinke’s personal attack could have lasting impacts.

“I think it erases any hope that he would cooperate in any good faith with the committee, and escalates the rhetoric at a really inopportune time for him,” said Kate Kelly, director of public lands at the left-wing Center for American Progress. 

“Even if he does leave soon, I think that this action will damage the relationship between the Interior Department and the committee for future secretaries,” she said.

Adam Sarvana, a spokesman for Grijalva, said the congressman won’t hold a grudge against Zinke.

“My boss’ oversight and legislative strategy very much won’t change because of Zinke’s tweet,” he said.

Sarvana said that Grijalva is also unlikely to drag Zinke before the committee sooner because of the tweet — a power that he will have when he wields the gavel.

The incoming chairman had planned for Zinke’s first hearing to be on the Trump administration’s budget once it is released early next year, and that plan hasn’t changed, Sarvana said.

“The American people know who I’m here to serve, and they know in whose interests I’m acting. They don’t know the same about Secretary Zinke,” Grijalva said in a statement after the tweet.

Grijalva wasn’t available for an interview Monday, Sarvana said.

Interior didn’t respond to requests for comment Monday.

Rep. Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopZinke picks fight with key Dem at an odd time House GOP and Puerto Rico governor agree on statehood vote Overnight Energy: Outdoor retailer Patagonia makes first Senate endorsements | EPA withdraws Obama uranium milling rule | NASA chief sees 'no reason' to dismiss UN climate report MORE (R-Utah) is now the committee’s chairman and is expected to be its ranking member in the next Congress.

He has been outspoken in his personal respect for Grijalva, saying at a committee meeting in November that Grijalva is “one of the few people in Congress I actually like and respect.”

Bishop’s office declined to comment on the feud Monday, though the Republican praised Zinke’s public land policies in an opinion piece published in The Hill on Sunday, two days after the secretary’s tweet. 

“Zinke has done his homework and prioritized enhancing public access to lands, improving land and resource management, and simplifying the decisionmaking process,” he wrote.

Zinke lashed out at Grijalva after the congressman called for him to resign — something he had previously avoided doing.

He did so because of a series of controversies surrounding Zinke.

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The most prominent centers on a probe into a Montana land deal involving Zinke’s foundation and backed in part by David Lesar, the chairman of Halliburton Co. Interior’s Office of Inspector General recently referred the probe to the Justice Department for potential prosecution.

Investigators are also looking into whether Zinke acted properly by not approving a proposed tribal casino in Connecticut after lobbying by a competitor. And separately, the inspector general’s office recently found that Zinke violated department policies by letting his wife travel in government vehicles.

Those probes and others, combined with pro-industry and pro-fossil fuel policies, prompted Grijalva to call on Zinke to step down.

“These are not the hallmarks of an effective leader. We would hardly look the other way at the mayor of a small town, let alone a cabinet secretary, who faced unending ethical questions, formal investigations and substantiated claims of attempted nepotism,” he wrote Friday in USA Today.

Zinke responded with a tweet that called on Grijalva to resign and accused him of “drunken and hostile behavior.”

It said Grijalva had “used nearly $50,000 in tax dollars as hush money to cover up his drunken and hostile behavior,” an apparent reference to a Washington Times piece last year that said Grijalva’s office paid a severance to a female employee after she accused him of being drunk on the job and creating a hostile work environment.

The tweet also referenced the Tune Inn, a Capitol Hill bar that Grijalva often visits.

Kelly took the tweet to mean either that Zinke is on his way out the door — and he’ll be out of Grijalva’s reach soon — or that the secretary is trying to impress Trump by borrowing from his playbook with insults.

As chairman, Grijalva will have the power to compel Zinke and his staff to testify in a hearing or in private and to produce documents or records in response to subpoenas, potentially creating new hurdles for Zinke’s agenda.

Grijalva’s new post, and the Democrats’ new majority, puts them in a position to target the aggressive deregulatory agenda at Interior, including through legislation and through funding restrictions — although they would need approval from the Senate and from Trump to do real damage.

Trump has made clear he likes to hit back after getting hit and values when others do, too.

“I enjoy the fight,” Zinke, an outspoken former Navy SEAL and one-term member of Congress, told Breitbart earlier in November.

“I’ve been in a lot of firefights. I don’t mind getting shot at,” he continued. “It is better to charge up a hill under fire than cower in a foxhole.”

Although many appeared to distance themselves from Zinke’s direct attack, he did get some support in the House for his tweet. The Congressional Western Caucus, an all-Republican group led by Rep. Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarZinke picks fight with key Dem at an odd time 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 Judge restores protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears MORE (Ariz.), tweeted that Zinke’s statement was “well said,” and also called on Grijalva to resign. 

But Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiFreedom Caucus calls on leadership to include wall funding, end to 'catch and release' in funding bill Black Caucus huddles as talk of term limits heats up Insurgent Dems amplify push for term limits on party leaders MORE (D-Calif.), likely the next Speaker, stood up for Grijalva.

“We couldn’t have a clearer contrast with the values-based leadership of @RepRaulGrijalva to protect the planet for our children than @SecretaryZinke’s toxic, special interest agenda,” she tweeted about the feud.