Zinke picks fight with key Dem at an odd time

Rep. Raúl Grijalva is prepared to work with Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: Gillibrand offers bill to ban pesticide from school lunches | Interior secretary met tribal lawyer tied to Zinke casino dispute | Critics say EPA rule could reintroduce asbestos use Interior secretary met with tribal lawyer attached to Zinke casino dispute Zinke joins board of small gold mining company 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 TrumpImpeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent Feds say marijuana ties could prevent immigrants from getting US citizenship Trump approval drops to 2019 low after Mueller report's release: poll 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 BishopStatehood bill could make Puerto Rico a state before 2020 Here's why Congress, not the president, should lead on environmental protection Overnight Energy: McConnell tees up vote on Green New Deal | Centrist Dems pitch alternative to plan | House Republican likens Green New Deal to genocide | Coca-Cola reveals it uses 3M tons of plastic every year 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 GosarRepublicans offer 'free market alternative' to paid family leave GOP lawmaker attacks critic as 'a little bitch' on Twitter Overnight Defense: NATO chief urges US to support alliance on its 70th anniversary | Turkey rebuffs Pentagon pressure over Russia deal | Rand Paul, liberals team up to push Trump on Syria withdrawal MORE (Ariz.), tweeted that Zinke’s statement was “well said,” and also called on Grijalva to resign. 

But Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiImpeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent 20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform Hillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars 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.