Interior nominee Ryan Zinke set for first Senate confirmation vote

Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Montana) is seen here with Glynn Crooks, a former vice chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. Photo: Congressman Ryan Zinke

Lawmakers are moving forward with a vote on Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Montana) to be Secretary of the Interior for Republican President Donald Trump.

Zinke has earned praise for his approach to Indian issues. During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources last week, he vowed to respect tribal sovereignty, promote self-determination and protect treaty rights when it comes to making decisions.

"Sovereignty should mean something," Zinke said on January 17. "When we say a nation is sovereign, it should have weight."

The committee is now scheduled to advance Zinke's nomination at a business meeting on Tuesday morning. He is expected to win the support of Republicans on the panel, all of whom welcomed his stance on a wide range of matters, including those affecting Indian Country.

"I know you are a Navy man so excuse me," Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the chairman of the committee, said during the hearing, "but we hope the cavalry is on the way."

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: Ryan Zinke Senate Confirmation Hearing

Once Zinke's nomination gets to the Senate floor, he will garner the support of at least one prominent Democrat. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana), who served as vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs during the last session of Congress, introduced his fellow Montanan at the hearing last week.

"Of course, there are those issues where Congressman Zinke and I don't see eye to eye," Tester said in his remarks to the committee. "But if he provides you with the answers he has provided to me, I expect you will find that he is equipped to hold this post with accountability.

Other key Democrats have withheld endorsements so far. Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), the new vice chairman of the Indian Affairs panel, said he hasn't decided whether to vote for Zinke but was encouraged by a one-on-one meeting with the nominee.

In a press release on Thursday, Udall said Zinke "assured me that he intends to be a 'strong advocate' for Native Americans."

If he is confirmed to lead the Interior Department, Zinke would oversee the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians and the National Indian Gaming Commission. Even beyond those agencies, tribes look to the Interior Secretary to set the tone for fellow Cabinet members when it comes to dealing with their unique issues.

Under former president Barack Obama, former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell took on a leadership role as chair of the White House Council on Native American Affairs, which consists of top officials from numerous federal agencies. Although the council has been made permanent through an executive order, neither Trump nor Zinke have said anything about keeping it alive in the new administration.

Zinke, who is an adopted member of the Fort Peck Tribes, attended the Native Nations Inaugural Ball at the National Museum of the American Indian on Friday evening.

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