In his first two weeks on Capitol Hill, freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke of Whitefish accused President Barack Obama of fueling terrorism through sloppy foreign policy, co-sponsored a bill to approve construction of the contentious Keystone XL pipeline and lost a sports bet to House Speaker John Boehner.
Zinke, the country’s first former Navy SEAL Congressman, said he’s acclimating to the 114th Congress, and with the largest Republican House majority in more than 80 years he’s confident in the GOP’s ability to influence major legislation overhauling immigration, energy development and health care while working across party lines on a host of issues that enjoy bipartisan support.
“It’s been an interesting couple of weeks, but I’m rolling up my sleeves and getting to work,” Zinke said last week.
After he was sworn into Congress Jan. 6, Zinke wasted little time before criticizing President Obama’s foreign policy, which he said fueled the recent terrorist attack on the Paris offices of the French satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo,” a mass shooting that left 12 people dead.
He also voted to dismantle the president’s executive actions that would extend protections to undocumented immigrants, calling it an unconstitutional overreach.
“A lot has happened at the front end of the session, especially immigration,” Zinke said. “My duty as a SEAL and as a Congressman is to defend the Constitution from illegal acts like what the president has put forth with his executive overreach. The president overstepped his authority.”
The Republican-controlled House recently cast votes targeting White House policies the GOP said Obama was not empowered to make under the U.S. Constitution.
Democrats argued that President Obama had acted within the law when he ordered changes in immigration policy to remove the fear of deportation for millions of undocumented aliens who are productive and otherwise law-abiding individuals.
The amendments were attached to a $40 billion funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security that otherwise will run out of money at the end of February.
Zinke also spoke out against Obama’s foreign policy, saying it fueled the terrorist attacks in Paris.
“When America doesn’t lead from the front others cannot and will not follow,” he said. “The idea that we are going to defeat ISIS by air alone is utter nonsense and through our inaction, including Obama’s no-show in Paris, I think it is an example of a no-show policy that fuels terrorism.”
As a freshman lawmaker, Zinke said his priorities for the two-year session include standing up for the working class while putting forth legislation “that addresses our significant challenges ahead as a country” – immigration, debt and budget, tax reform, and an energy plan with a goal of energy independence, which he hopes to help influence through his role on the Natural Resources Committee.
“I’m a Teddy Roosevelt Republican,” Zinke, who owns a Toyota Prius, said. “We live in Montana for a reason, because we enjoy clean water, clean air and the outdoors. But it has to be about multiple use and not single use. I think we have lost our way in a lot of ways. We can mine and drill and still be responsible stewards of the land we cherish. Coal, oil and natural gas are going to be part of our energy picture for a long time and there is no doubt when it comes to energy that Montana has an important role to play.”
Despite veto threats from President Obama, the House passed a Zinke co-sponsored bill called he Keystone XL Pipeline Act approving construction of the pipeline, the proposed route for which passes through Baker in Montana’s Bakken region.
“I maintain that transportation of oil by pipelines is safer than rail,” he said. “Multiple studies, including those by the Obama Administration, have found the pipeline to be a safe and environmentally responsible form of transport, and an economic engine for the region.”
Saying rural Montana is too often ignored by federal lawmakers, Zinke introduced legislation to extend federal recognition to the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Cree, headquartered in the Great Falls and hi-line area. While the state of Montana recognized the Little Shell in 2000, the tribe has been seeking federal recognition for 35 years.
With the workload already piling up, Zinke said he begins most days at 5:30 a.m. by working out at the gym, answers emails and phone calls and then begins working with fellow members of the Armed Services and Natural Resources Committees that he sits on, both of which he said are relevant and important for Montana.
He also enjoyed a friendly bet with House Speaker John Boehner prior to the recent college football national championships, which featured a match between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the University of Oregon Ducks, Zinke’s alma mater where he played center from 1980 to 1984.
Zinke issued a challenge to the House Speaker, an Ohio Republican – if the Ducks lose, Zinke would wear a tie with Ohio State colors of scarlet and gray, but if Ohio State loses, Boehner would wear a tie sporting the Ducks’ green and yellow.
When the Ducks fell 42-20, Zinke kept up his end of the deal.
Zinke said he’ll return to the Flathead Valley for a visit during the Whitefish Winter Carnival next month.
Follow Zinke on Twitter at www.twitter.com/RepRyanZinke, Facebook at www.Facebook.com/CongressmanRyanZinke or on his website at www.Zinke.House.Gov.