Jim Watson/Staff/Getty Images
The Senate voted to confirm President Donald Trump's nominee for Secretary of the Interior with a vote of 68-31 Wednesday morning.
Ryan Zinke, a former Navy SEAL and two-term House member representing Montana's at-large district, has long been an ardent outdoorsman and has expressed his disdain for Republican-led efforts to sell public lands in the past.
However, he recently voted in favor of a rules change that made it easier for federally-owned lands to be transferred to state and local governments. The vote casts doubts on his dedication to preserving public lands, over 400 million acres of which will be under his purview as Interior Secretary.
Nonetheless, Zinke describes himself as a “Roosevelt conservationist” and promised throughout his confirmation hearing to oppose the transfer of public lands to private owners.
He supports enabling companies to drill for natural gas on public lands, a policy that some members of Congress have cited as a potential source of revenue for offsetting the cost of Trump's proposed trillion dollars spending in infrastructure.
Climate change activist and major Democratic party donor President Tom Steyer responded to Zinke's confirmation in a statement Wednesday morning:
“Ryan Zinke made his name in Congress as a fossil fuel industry sweetheart who will give private corporations free rein to exploit publicly owned lands for private profit.”
On the other hand, Zinke's confirmation was celebrated by Republican lawmakers after the vote, many of whom support his federal land management style that will encourage public use such as hunting, fishing, hiking, and camping.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said in a statement Wednesday morning:
“Our great land is something we should be able to access, enjoy, and conserve. Secretary Zinke understands this delicate balance and has the right experience for the job, which made him the ideal choice to head the Department of the Interior.”
Zinke's confirmation marks the most recent victory for the Trump administration in a historically-slow confirmation process. The process has been deliberately slowed down by Senate Democrats who are unable to actually prevent the confirmation of Trump's nominees.
Speaking before Trump's joint address to Congress on Tuesday evening, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said of the tactic:
“We've exposed the cabinet for what it is: a swamp cabinet of billionaires & bankers who lack competence.”
Zinke is the sixteenth Cabinet nominee to pass the Senate, leaving nine other Cabinet-level appointees still awaiting confirmation.