ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The arm of the federal government that oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the National Park Service has new leadership.
The U.S. Senate today confirmed Ryan Zinke as U.S. Secretary of the Interior, and New Mexico’s two U.S. Senators, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both Democrats, gave this President Trump appointee their rare support.
During January’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Heinrich noted, “In my home state of New Mexico, we have two new monuments.” He asked Zinke whether he’d work to make the Rio Grande Del Norte and Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monuments a success.
“I will absolutely commit to working with you. There are some monuments that are more controversial than others,” Zinke said. “I think the state should have a say,” he added.
On Native American issues, Sen. Bernie Sanders asked, “What do you propose to do to improve life for the Native American people throughout this country?”
Zinke replied, “I have great respect for the Indian Nations,” noting that he will address problems with Indian healthcare.
Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with the Democrats and ran for president unsuccessfully on the Democratic ticket, voted against Zinke.
In a statement, Sen. Udall said in part, “Congressman Zinke’s hearing testimony and answers to my many questions give me a level of confidence that he understands the serious and essential responsibilities of the Secretary of the Interior to defend our precious public lands and uphold the Tribal trust responsibility.”
The statement continued, “However, there are also issues where we have long-standing differences, and I will not hesitate to stand up for what is right to protect our public lands, waters, and treasured landscapes for future generations. Now that he has been confirmed, I will work steadfastly to hold Congressman Zinke accountable.”
Sen. Heinrich, in a statement released Wednesday, said in part, “While we are clearly not going to agree on every issue, I believe it’s very important to have a Westerner in this role — particularly one who is committed to keeping public lands in public hands.”
Zinke won confirmation with a 68 to 31 vote.
According to data maintained by the New York Times, New Mexico’s two senators have voted identically against President Trump’s cabinet picks 75 percent of the time, at a higher rate than their Democratic leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York.
A full Senate confirmation vote is expected on Dr. Ben Carson to lead HUD, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, later this week.