Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers ‘Not Interested’ in Interior Post

Members in line to replace Ryan Zinke include Labrador, Denham, Heller

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., leaves a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the Capitol on Nov. 28. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., leaves a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the Capitol on Nov. 28. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted December 17, 2018 at 9:11am

Despite being a speculative frontrunner to lead the Department of the Interior when President Donald Trump first appointed his cabinet, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is not interested in the post.

Since Trump announced that Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will depart his administration amid corruption charges on Saturday, speculation about who will replace the former congressman has centered on a handful of Republican members or former members of Congress from western states.

McMorris Rodgers was among those considered for the position as Trump was building his cabinet after his election in 2016, but a person familiar with the congresswoman’s thinking said she is “not seeking or interested in Interior.”

Were the outgoing House Republican Conference chairwoman to take the position, it would leave just 12 Republican women in the House next year.

Like McMorris Rodgers, the other lawmakers would be likely to uphold an overhaul of the department under Zinke that included a dramatic contraction of protected national monuments and a drive toward increased oil and gas drilling on federal lands.

Zinke’s tenure was tarnished by several investigations into allegations of misused taxpayer funds and conflicts of interest, including an inquiry into dealings with a developer working on a project near land in Montana that he and his wife, Lola, own. The Interior Department’s inspector general referred that matter to the Justice Department.

On Saturday, Trump announced the departure on Twitter, and Zinke submitted a letter of resignation to the White House.

Rep. Raúl Labrador of Idaho met with White House officials about the appointment the same day, an unidentified congressional aide told The Associated Press. A cofounder of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, Labrador lost a bid to become Idaho’s governor in the primary. His voting record on rolling back environmental regulations and protected lands has garnered a 4 percent lifetime rating from the League of Conservation Voters.

Other candidates include outgoing California Rep. Jeff Denham, the AP reported. Denham lost his re-election race last month despite his battle against state plans to direct water out of the Central Valley and into the ocean in order to preserve salmon populations, according to McClatchy.

Another candidate is outgoing Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, who was defeated by Jacky Rosen in his bid for re-election last month. Heller left open the possibility of joining the Trump cabinet in an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal prior to Zinke’s resignation.

The Washington Post reported Saturday that the White House may also consider Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, the presumptive ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee when the new Congress begins in January.

Bishop did not confirm he was seeking the job, but did say Zinke’s successor “must have the knowhow” to see his legacy through.

“Whoever is selected as the next Secretary of the Interior, they must continue addressing the maintenance backlog on public lands, continue the effort to reorganize the department, and continue to engage state and local officials,” Bishop said. “Secretary Zinke had the vision to start this process and his successor must have the knowhow to bring it to a conclusion.”

Both Heller and Bishop lobbied the White House to slash the boundaries protecting national monuments, including Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada and the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, the Review-Journal reported.

John T. Bennett contributed to this report.