After Secretary Zinke’s no good, very bad week, he retreats to his happy place

Interior Secretary set to outline policy priorities Friday at the Heritage Foundation

Department of the Interior

Any time you’ve had a tough week, it’s nice to retreat to a comfortable place, where you can forget about the last few days. After this week, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke must be awfully happy he’s escaping to the friendly confines of the Heritage Foundation, where he’ll present “A Vision for American Energy Dominance.”

Secretary Zinke’s Interior Department and the Heritage Foundation have a mutually beneficial relationship — the right-wing foundation has provided the secretary with key political staff, while the secretary has carried out the Heritage Foundation’s agenda, no questions asked. The Heritage Foundation has pushed Secretary Zinke to erode national monument protections and cheered the administration’s aggressive approach to rolling back safeguards and regulations on public lands.

While Secretary Zinke will certainly receive a warm welcome at Heritage, alarm bells are sounding about his leadership abilities and the extreme agenda he’s trying to push through the Interior Department.

Here’s how Secretary Zinke’s week has gone so far:

Sunday, September 24th

  • Secretary Zinke’s home state newspaper editorialized about his “monumental failure,” writing, “Ryan Zinke’s rocky career as secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior took a nosedive last week with the release of a leaked document showing some startlingly sloppy work on national monument review. Given that this review has been one of Zinke’s most important tasks to date as Interior secretary, he is fast heading for a failing grade if he does not improve his performance immediately.”

Monday, September 25th

  • The secretary faced blowback after telling a group of oil industry executives that a huge portion of his staff isn’t loyal to his agenda. He said, “I got 30 percent of the crew that’s not loyal to the flag.” In the same speech he fawned over industry officials, telling them that “I think if I were in your industry, I’d be happy.”
  • Secretary Zinke’s loyalty expectations received immediate blowback. Former Interior Department employees wrote, “The Secretary’s remarks reveal a profound lack of knowledge of and respect for the important and honorable role played by thousands of Interior employees who are among the most dedicated employees in the federal government.” Senator Maria Cantwell said that Interior Department employees “deserve respect from the man charged with leading them — not cheap shots in the press.”

Tuesday, September 26th

  • Elected leaders from New Mexico wrote to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, raising concerns about the factual accuracy of the national monuments report delivered by Secretary Zinke to President Trump. They write, “there are several factual errors included in the report’s summaries…which were used to justify recommended [national monument] changes…To make changes to them now with such muddled justification is an insult to the Americans who have dedicated their time, energy, and expertise to see that these resources are protected for future generations.”
  • The letter follows-up congressional testimony from last week, where an Interior Department official admitted that field staff and other agency professionals — experts on national monuments — played virtually no role in the drafting or review of the report to the president.

Wednesday, September 27th

  • A new Politico/Morning Consult poll shows Secretary Zinke is the least popular cabinet secretary in the Trump administration, with only 22 percent of Americans holding a favorable view of him.
  • A story by the Associated Press — “US Interior chief wants smaller monuments, but not at home” — highlights how Secretary Zinke’s political ambitions in Montana are influencing his decision-making.
  • Darryl Fears with the Washington Post connects the dots between Zinke’s “loyalty” comments and his assault on career Interior staff, with an unnamed executive who served in three administrations saying, “I think under any other administration there would have been a conversation about your value to the organization and why they’re moving you where they’re moving you…. They will come after you.”