First-term U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana, who once implied that sexual orientation is a choice and called Hillary Clinton the Antichrist (which he later said was a joke), is Donald Trump’s choice to be secretary of the Interior.
Trump has offered the position to Zinke, sources told Politico, but there’s no word yet on whether he’ll accept. Another Republican House member, Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington State, was earlier said to be the front-runner for the job, but Trump aides urged him to consider other candidates, Politico reports.
Zinke was just reelected to Congress, besting Democrat Denise Juneau, who is lesbian. In an October debate, they were asked what they’d do to protect LGBT rights. “Number 1, get elected,” Juneau said, according to the Great Falls Tribune. She pointed out that she would be the first openly LGBT person to represent Montana in Congress, the first woman sent to Congress by the state since 1941, and the first Native American woman elected to Congress from any state. “Representation matters,” she said.
At the same debate, Zinke said, “If you want to be lesbian, if you want to be Muslim, it doesn’t matter. You have the right to be you.” He received boos for appearing to say that being lesbian is a choice.
Whether or not he believes that, his record on LGBT issues is not good — he has a zero from the Human Rights Campaign in its Congressional Scorecard for his only term in Congress, meaning he has not taken any pro-LGBT positions.
In his first House run, in 2014, Zinke told a Republican group that the U.S. had lost its “moral compass” under President Obama and said Clinton was the Antichrist. He later said his comments were “a little bit harsh” and shouldn’t be taken seriously. A former Navy SEAL, Zinke said he was upset about the deaths of two SEALs in the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, while Clinton was secretary of State.
At the Department of the Interior, Zinke would oversee U.S. public lands, including national parks, wildlife refuges, areas belonging to Native American tribes, and federal property that could be used for energy exploration. He actually has a better record on conservation than many Republicans, Politico reports — although perhaps that’s setting a low bar.
He resigned as a delegate to the Republican National Convention this year “because the party platform included language calling for the sale of public lands,” the site notes, and last year was the only Republican to support a Democratic bill to permanently authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. He has been praised by some environmental groups, but according to the League of Conservation Voters, he has taken a pro-environment position only 3 percent of the time. He acknowledges that climate change exists but says he’s not sure that it’s caused by burning fossil fuels.
Like other Cabinet nominees, he has to be confirmed by the Senate before assuming the secretary post. But his ambitions may lie elsewhere, Politico reports; some Montana Republicans would like to see him challenge Montana’s senior U.S. senator, Democrat Jon Tester, in 2018.