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Senate committee approves President Trump's Interior and Energy choices






Rick Perry, left, is Republican President Donald Trump's pick to lead the Energy Department. Ryan Zinke has been tapped to head up the Interior Department. Photos: Gage Skidmore and Gage Skidmore

Republican President Donald Trump could soon be welcoming new members to his Cabinet as he moves through his second full week in office.

Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Montana), Trump's nominee to lead the Interior Department, and former Texas governor Rick Perry, the president's choice for the Energy Department, were both advanced by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Tuesday morning. They are now expected to win approval by the full Senate, which is under Republican control.

"You got a strong bipartisan vote," Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana) told Zinke at a business meeting on Capitol Hill.

But both nominees saw opposition from Democrats and Independents on the panel. Six voted against Zinke and seven voted against Perry.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), the top Democrat on the committee, voted no on Zinke because she is concerned about the Trump administration's plans to encourage oil and gas development on public lands, which fall under Interior's purview. She also said Perry's responses to questions about key programs at Energy were inadequate.

Zinke, an adopted member of the Fort Peck Tribes, has won praise from fellow lawmakers and tribal leaders, particularly those from Montana, for his stances on sovereignty, self-determination and treaties. If confirmed, he would oversee the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians and the National Indian Gaming Commission.

Perry, on the other hand, has faced questions about his background. When he ran for president, he said he would eliminate the Energy Department, but he told lawmakers that he regretted taking that position.

"If confirmed, I will enter this role excited and passionate," Perry said at his January 19 hearing.

Perry also has strong ties to the Dakota Access Pipeline. He holds financial stakes in two companies building and financing the project and was paid to sit on the boards of both firms.

Perry has vowed to stay away from matters affecting the companies for at least two years. But his stance doesn't matter much because Trump has already directed his administration to "expedite" consideration of the final portion of the pipeline in North Dakota, near the home of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

“I look forward to partnering with Congressman Zinke and Gov. Perry, who will lead departments that contribute significantly to our nation’s economic prosperity and national security,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the chairman of the committee, said in a statement after the votes. “I am eager to work with Congressman Zinke to restore balance and trust to the management of our public lands, and with Gov. Perry to address high energy costs in rural Alaska, among other challenges. Given the bipartisan support that both nominees received today, I am hopeful that their nominations will be taken up and confirmed quickly by the full Senate.”

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