Ryan Zinke offered a lot of commitments Tuesday. They came out gradually over the course of a four-hour hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Zinke committed to encouraging renewable energy, to bolstering tribal sovereignty, to protecting clean water. And while it took a fair bit of coaxing from Sen. Bernie Sanders, Zinke finally said aloud the words Montanans have been waiting for weeks to hear.
"I am absolutely against transfer or sale of public land."
The confirmation hearing broke a nearly month-long silence from Zinke regarding his nomination as Secretary of the Interior. The former Navy SEAL had repeatedly dodged press inquiries since early December, when news of his first meeting with Donald Trump broke. And the confirmation hot seat was just lukewarm throughout much of the hearing. Senators used the opportunity to secure commitments from Zinke to visit their home states, or—as in the case of Montana Sen. Steve Daines—to pitch relative softballs like "Why do you want this job?" Regarding his recent vote in favor of a congressional rules change that would ease the transfer of federal lands, Zinke explained the change as a "shot across the bow" to alert Beltway politicians how fed up westerners are with current land management policies. Pressed by Sanders on whether he agrees with Trump that climate change is a hoax, Zinke likely surprised more than a few critics back home.
"I don't believe it is a hoax, but there is debate," he said, adding that "man has had an influence."
Zinke's face occupied the space between a smirk and a grin until Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth spoke up. She chastised the congressman for not taking a strong stand against Trump's mistreatment of women during the 2016 campaign and questioned his ability to tackle the sexual harassment problems that have swept through the National Park Service. Duckworth's line of inquiry was picked up by Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, then by Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono, to whom Zinke offered yet another promise.
"You have my commitment, it will be zero tolerance, and I will be furious in this."
So those are Zinke's commitments. No land transfers. No denying climate change. No tolerance for sexual misconduct among Interior employees. If confirmed, he best remember those statements. Because this time, finally, he was under oath.