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McMorris Rodgers expected to be Trump’s pick for Interior secretary; local politicians say they’ll run for seat

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., arrives at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016, in Bedminster, N.J., to meet with President-elect Donald Trump. (Carolyn Kaster / AP)
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., arrives at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016, in Bedminster, N.J., to meet with President-elect Donald Trump. (Carolyn Kaster / AP)

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is expected to be named interior secretary by President-elect Donald Trump, the New York Times reported.

McMorris Rodgers, elected to a seventh term last month, has been mentioned as a possible Interior Department secretary after she met with Trump on Nov. 20 in New Jersey.

She also was named a vice chairwoman of the 13-member Trump transition executive committee.

If she gets the nod, McMorris Rodgers’ seat representing Eastern Washington would be filled in a special election in the spring or summer or in next year’s general election in November.

But Trump has not made a decision and is still considering other applicants, a senior transition official with knowledge of the selection process but not authorized to speak publicly told the Tribune News Service late Friday.

“No offer has been made,” the official said. “We are still looking at candidates.”

Others reportedly being considered are: Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Lucas Oil co-founder Forrest Lucas and former Colorado Rep. Bob Beauprez.

McMorris Rodgers represents Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District, which contains large sections of land owned and managed by the federal government. She has been a longtime advocate of increased use of federal land, including expanded timber harvests and more drilling for oil and gas.

She’s a co-sponsor of the Emergency Wildfire and Forest Management Act, which would streamline the environmental impact studies for federal forest lands, making it easier for lumber companies to thin them and harder for opponents to block those sales.

Earlier this year, she sidestepped the debate over whether the catastrophic wildfires Washington and other Western states have experienced in recent years can be linked to climate change. Appearing in Spokane a day after Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee had linked fires over the last three summers to hotter, drier summers from climate change and carbon emissions, McMorris Rodgers instead said the federal government should focus on better forest management.

“Clearly, we have a lot of trees that are dead, diseased, bug infested, and that needs to be addressed,” she said.

Asked whether man-made climate change was a threat, and whether she would support laws limiting greenhouse gas production, McMorris Rodgers didn’t directly answer the question. She said policies promoting clean energy should be weighed against their economic impact, but didn’t address climate change in her answer.

The conservative Washington Policy Center said she would be a good choice because of her years of work on land issues.

“She has seen firsthand the environmental damage that comes from neglect of federal lands and will be a great steward of our parks and federal lands,” said Todd Myers, the director of that group’s Environmental Policy Center.

News media reports that a McMorris Rodgers appointment could be imminent prompted sharp criticism from environmental groups.

The congresswoman supports “selling off our public lands to the highest bidder and opening them to drilling, mining and logging,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a prepared statement. “It’s clear that McMorris Rodgers would jeopardize the future of our public lands if appointed as interior secretary.”

Brian Sweeney of the Western Environmental Law Center said she “represents a threat to public lands, endangered species and our clean energy future.” Kate Colwell, for Friends of the Earth, contended she would “wield a rubber stamp for the fossil fuel industry” because of past support of greater drilling.

Also quick to issue statements of opposition were the Environmental Defense Fund, the Center for Western Priorities, American Rivers, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Back Country Hunters and Anglers, EarthJustice, and Fuse Washington, a coalition of progressive organizations.

Representatives of resourced-based industries were supportive.

Luke Popovich, of the National Mining Association, said McMorris Rodgers has a “deep knowledge of public lands issues” and the experience of working on them in Congress, which is rare for an interior secretary. The mining industry hopes she would be able to focus on multiple uses of federal lands and better balance the needs to protect resources and the economic costs of doing that.

“She understands the nitty-gritty of the laws that apply,” Popovich said.

Ducks Unlimited supported the nomination, with Chief Executive Officer Dale Hall, a former director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, saying he looked forward to working with McMorris Rodgers because “she understands our issues.”

Travis Joseph, president of the American Forest Resource Council, praised the possible nomination and described McMorris Rodgers as someone who would “bring back some common sense” to the management of federal lands.

“She’s been working on these issues for years,” said Joseph, whose organization represents loggers, mill owners and other members of the forest industry in Washington and four other Western states. “There are millions of acres of federal forest lands that face a crisis.”

Donna Harman, president and chief executive officer of the American Forest and Paper Association, said the group welcomes the prospect that she would use her knowledge to bring responsible stewardship to public lands: “That foundation is critical to future policy that impacts our member companies that manufacture the forest and paper products Americans use every day.”

The Center for Responsive Politics said McMorris Rodgers was the sixth largest recipient of money from the Forestry and Forest Products Industry in 2016, with a total of $83,950 in contributions. That’s more than Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton or Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., received.

The Interior Department has about 70,000 employees and a budget of more than $20 billion. It oversees a wide range of agencies, including the bureaus of Indian Affairs, Land Management, Reclamation and Safety and Environmental Enforcement, as well as the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and the Geological Survey.

Oversight of the BIA would mean McMorris Rodgers could at some point come into contact with her opponent from the last two elections, Joe Pakootas, who recently was named chief executive of Spokane Tribal Enterprises.

On Friday, Pakootas said he believed he could work with McMorris Rodgers, despite contending in his campaign that she’s an ineffective legislator and was too timid to rebuke Trump’s more controversial statements about women and minorities.

“She’s going to be in a position where we have to work with her,” Pakootas said. “I would hope the tribes give her an opportunity to work with us.”

Pakootas said he believed he could find common ground with his former political opponent, but worried a Trump administration wouldn’t observe the property rights of sovereign tribes.

McMorris Rodgers, 47, has been in government since graduating from Pensacola (Florida) Christian College in 1990. She started as a legislative aide to state Rep. Bob Morton after running his re-election campaign in Northeast Washington’s 7th Legislative District, and was appointed to his state House seat in 1994 when Morton was appointed to the state Senate. She rose to the rank of House minority leader and in 2004 won the hotly contested race for an open seat in the 5th Congressional District.

Easily re-elected in a Republican district in most subsequent campaigns, she is currently vice chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, the fourth-ranking House Republican and the highest-ranking female Republican in Congress. She was not an early supporter of Donald Trump during the primaries but did arrange for a meeting with House Republicans after he was the party’s likely nominee.

Politico reported Thursday that some House Republicans have been jockeying for her position as the House Republican Conference chairwoman based on rumors that she would be selected by Trump.

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