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Trump chooses congressman, former SEAL Zinke as interior secretary

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President-elect Donald Trump has chosen first-term Republican U.S. Representative Ryan Zinke of Montana, a former Navy SEAL commander, as his interior secretary, a senior transition official said on Tuesday.

Zinke, 55, will be nominated to head the Interior Department, which employs more than 70,000 people across the United States and oversees more than 20 percent of federal land, including national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite.

Zinke’s choice was something of a surprise since some Republican officials wanted him to challenge Democratic U.S. Senator Jon Tester of Montana in the 2018 elections.

Zinke emerged after Trump had toyed with the idea of nominating U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state for the position.

He is a proponent of keeping public lands under federal ownership, putting him at odds with some in his Republican Party who are more favorable to privatization or placing them under the control of states.

It remains unclear where Zinke would stand on opening up more federal lands to increased drilling and mining, something Trump promised he would do as president.

Trump’s official energy platform calls for opening “onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands, eliminate moratorium on coal leasing, and open shale energy deposits.”

A Trump aide told Reuters last week that McMorris Rodgers had been picked for the post. She had met Trump at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, shortly after the president-elect began his Cabinet search.

On Tuesday, a source close to the congresswoman said she had never been offered the job.

“It was an honor to be invited to spend time with the president-elect, and I’m energized more than ever to continue leading in Congress as we think big, reimagine this government, and put people back at the center of it,” McMorris Rodgers said in a Facebook post.

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