Zinke’s Meeting with Trump Sparks Cabinet Speculation

GOP congressman was an early Trump supporter, has expressed interest in a cabinet position

By Molly Priddy
Supporters cheer as U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke watches election returns at The Lodge at Whitefish Lake on Nov. 8, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke visited Trump Tower in New York for a meeting with the president-elect on Dec. 12, sparking the conversation of a potential cabinet position.

The GOP lawmaker was an early supporter of Donald Trump during the election and has expressed interest in a cabinet post. He’s also considering a 2018 challenge to Montana Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.

Spokeswoman Heather Swift says Zinke is committed to working with the incoming president. After the meeting, Swift said Trump and Zinke discussed a range of topics relating to Montana, including land use and ownership, Native American affairs, national security, and veterans affairs.

“President-elect Donald Trump and I had a very positive meeting where we discussed a wide range of Montana priorities. We are both hopeful for the future,” Zinke said after the meeting.

Monday’s visit to Trump Tower adds Zinke to the growing list of politicians, business leaders and others meeting with Trump in the lead-up to the new administration. Some of those visits have led to cabinet picks but many have not.

Several national media outlets – such as Bloomberg, Washington Post, and CNN –  have speculated that Zinke is a frontrunner for the Secretary of Interior position within Trump’s cabinet.

Swift said nothing concrete about a potential cabinet position, and referred questions about replacement process to the Montana Republican Party.

State Sen. Jeff Essmann, the chair of the Montana Republican Party and the Senate majority leader, originally said in an interview that if Zinke were to accept a position and vacate his seat, the state GOP would provide Gov. Steve Bullock with three names for a temporary replacement.

However, Essmann later corrected himself, saying there are discrepancies between what is written in Montana code and what is prescribed in the U.S. Constitution.

“We’re sorting out what the situation is,” Essmann said on Dec. 13. “But obviously we’ll follow the (Constitution).”

The Constitution calls for special election to fill the vacancy. Republicans and Democrats would present candidates, and the election would take place 85 to 105 days after the vacancy.

Essmann said there wouldn’t be a primary election, due to the speedy nature of these elections.

“There’s no primary because the incentive is to fill the position with an elected representative of the people as soon as possible,” he said.

In his recently published autobiography, “American Commander,” Zinke extols the virtues of Trump’s likely secretary of defense, retired Gen. James Mattis, according to a report in Roll Call. The book was written before the election took place.

The U.S. Constitution requires that a member of the U.S. House be replaced through an election held in the congressional district. Since Montana is one district, the election would be statewide.

The last Montana congressman to resign while in office at the U.S. House was James Battin in 1969.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.