The day after he sat in the back row of the House of Representatives chamber to hear President Donald Trump’s first address to a joint chamber of Congress, Rep. Ryan Zinke (R.-Mont.) was confirmed by the Senate as Interior Secretary with strong bipartsan vote 68-31.
Sixteen Democrats joined 51 Republicans with Sen. Angus King (I.-Maine), who caucuses with Democrats, to vote for Zinke.
Zinke told Brietbart News on Wednesday he had a good time during his last his last session of Congress as a Member of Congress, checking in with his buddies and taking in the spectacle.
“I enjoyed it,” he said. “I enjoyed the camaraderie and I can’t wait to get to work.”
The president gave a great speech, he said.
“Like millions of Americans, I was in the audience and I think he hit it out of the park,” he said.
“For me, the tone was more important,” he said. “To me it was presidential. He did reach out, not just to Democrats and Republicans, but to Americans to find common ground on the big issues ahead of us.”
Going into the vote, Montana’s only congressman said he was not worred that he would not be confirmed. ”
“I’m not particularly controversial, so I’m very confident that I will be the secretary,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to do.”
Zinke said his new boss is looking for results. “The president holds people accountable. He is a man of action and all of us understand that we are there to do a job, roll up our sleeves and get to it.”
Georgia Republican Sen. David Perdue said after the vote: “Congressman Zinke is a great choice to lead the Department of the Interior. Under his leadership, I have full confidence that America will unlock its full energy potential. Congressman Zinke’s experience and commitment to preserving our wildlife and natural resources make him uniquely qualified for the position.”
Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan said on the Senate floor Tuesday having Zinke lead Interior was good for Alaska and good for America.
“Now, there’s been a lot of discussion about Congressman Zinke and he comes to this job with great qualifications,” said the Marine Reserve lieutenant colonel and combat veteran of Afghanistan. “He’s a patriotic and ethical man from a patriotic and ethical part of America: the American West.”
Sullivan said he cherished Zinke’s military service and welcomes a man of the retired Navy commander’s experience taking the helm at Interior.
“He’s a Navy SEAL who’s dedicated his life to protecting our great nation,” Sullivan said. “He’s a lifelong sportsman. He’s a trained geologist. He’s a strong advocate for energy independence. He has a keen interest in protecting our environment, while not stymieing more economic growth.
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D.-Hawaii) took to the Senate floor Tuesday and was one of the Democrats rising to oppose Zinke.
“We need a Secretary of Interior who will protect our public lands, make investments to conserve our endangered and threatened species and who will continue to confront climate change,” Hirono said.
“Congressman Zinke voted to block funding for any listed endangered species on which the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to conduct a five-year review,” she said.
“It did not seem to matter to Congressman Zinke that the reason why these reviews did not take place was because Republicans and Congress failed to appropriate the necessary funding to produce these reviews,” she said.
“His record and past statements demonstrate that Congressman Zinke is not the right person to lead the Department of the Interior at this juncture–at this critical stage, I urge my colleagues to oppose his nomination,” she said.
In the end, Zinke’s nomination did not generate the animus among Senate Democrats and their base of Democrats still trying to process what happened to their party Nov. 8.
Not only is Zinke an engaging and gregarious politician willing to work with Democrats, as he did a number of times as a congressman, his ascension to the president’s cabinet means he will not challenge Sen. Jon Tester (D.-Mont.). Tester was considered one of the most vulnerable of the 23 Senate Democrats up in 2018. Tester won in 2012 with less than 50 percent of the vote in a state where Trump beat Hillary Clinton by more than 20 points, 56 percent to her 35 percent.
All House vacancies must be filled by a special election and Montana state law prohibits the setting of a date for a special election until after the vacancy occurs.
Democrat Gov. Steve Bullock is required to set the date for the special election within 100 days of Zinke’s swearing in.
Shortly after Zinke’s confirmation, senators invoked cloture on the nomination of Dr. Ben Carson for Housing and Urban Development Secretary. The motion started the chamber’s 30 hours of debate on the nomination, which should be voted on by the Senate Thursday morning.