The mystery surrounding the next Interior secretary continued Tuesday, with press reports indicating that Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers was out and that the job had been offered to a Montana congressman.
Early in the day, Politico reported President-elect Donald Trump was considering Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador, who represents the North Idaho congressional district immediately to the east of McMorris Rodgers’ district, as well as Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana. But the political news organization said the Eastern Washington Republican was still considered the front-runner.
Late in the afternoon, Politico quoted unnamed sources to say Trump had offered the job to Zinke, but the freshman congressman and former Navy Seal commander hadn’t said whether he’d take it. The Washington Post also reported Trump had selected Zinke for the post, based on information from an unnamed source. There was no official confirmation from the Trump transition team or Zinke.
Zinke (rhymes with slinky), studied geology as an undergraduate at the University of Oregon and served as a Navy SEAL from 1986 to 2008 before entering politics, campaigned for his House seat on a platform of achieving North American energy independence. A lifelong hunter and fisherman, Zinke, 55, has defended public access to federal lands even though he frequently votes against environmentalists.
This past summer, he quit his post as a member of the GOP platform-writing committee after the group included language that would have transferred federal land ownership to the states.
“What I saw was a platform that was more divisive than uniting,” Zinke said at the time. “At this point, I think it’s better to show leadership.” Trump also opposes such land transfers, but the provision made it into the official Republican platform.
Zinke has on occasion broken ranks with the GOP majority, opposing a measure by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, that would have allowed each state to buy up to 2 million in U.S. Forest Service land to boost timber production. He has also pushed for full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, money to make purchases of parks and open space that is a high priority for outdoors groups.
‘A THEODORE ROOSEVELT REPUBLICAN’
Land Tawney, president and CEO of the Montana-based Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, said told the Washington Post Tuesday that Zinke is “a straight shooter” who has established credibility with outdoors enthusiasts in the state.
“He really prides himself on being a Theodore Roosevelt Republican, and he lives that a little bit more than other people,” Tawney said.
Outdoors activities such as mountain biking and skiing are a major economic driver in Whitefish and Montana, where roughly 200,000 residents have big-game hunting licenses and 300,000 have fishing licenses. Zinke, who has been endorsed by the Outdoor Industry Association, has embraced that sector of the state’s economy.
“Hunting and fishing isn’t something we do in Montana, it’s a way of life,” said Tawney.
Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, said Zinke “is a climate denier who supports drilling in the Arctic and continuing outrageous subsidies for dirty energy development on public lands–positions that align with the oil and gas companies that have spent nearly $350,000 on his campaigns.”
NO WORD ON LABRADOR
Labrador met with Trump at Trump Tower in New York on Monday, and hinted afterward to reporters that they’d discussed a role for him in the new Trump administration. McMorris Rodgers and Zinke also met with him on Monday.
If Labrador departed for a Trump administration post, it would trigger Idaho’s first-ever special election to fill a vacant U.S. House seat.
Many newspapers reported on Friday that McMorris Rodgers likely would be selected by Trump for Interior secretary, always citing unnamed sources. McMorris Rodgers and her staff refused repeated requests from The Spokesman-Review to comment.
The Washington Post contributed