Trump Said to Offer Cathy McMorris Rodgers Post to Head Interior

  • House lawmaker gets low ratings from environmental groups
  • McMorris Rodgers is highest-ranking woman in House leadership

President-elect Donald Trump has asked Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the highest-ranking Republican woman in the U.S. House, to be his Interior secretary, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

In picking the six-term Republican from Washington state, Trump would be putting a Westerner who has favored opening more areas to oil and gas development in charge of the agency that makes those decisions for 20 percent of the U.S. McMorris Rodgers, 47, has been House Republican Conference chairwoman, the fourth-ranking party leader, since 2013.

Her voting record in Congress has gained low ratings from environmental and conservation organizations, though her campaign website promotes her role helping to write bipartisan legislation passed in December to modernize the U.S. energy system, including by speeding hydropower development, which is important to her state.

She supported a provision ending the 1975 ban on the export of U.S. oil, voted to allow Indian tribes to use biomass as a stable energy source, and backed a bill rejecting an expanded definition of “navigable waters” under the Clean Water Act. She also helped write legislation on funding for wildfire disasters.

Even so, the League of Conservation Voters gave McMorris Rodgers a zero score in the group’s 100-point National Environmental Scorecard reflecting votes in 2015. Her lifetime pro-environment score is 4 percent with the group, which bases its findings on lawmakers’ votes on the group’s top issues including energy, global warming, public health, public lands and wildlife conservation, and spending for environmental programs. The average U.S. House score in the group’s ratings for all House members was 41 percent.

Western Tradition

In picking McMorris Rodgers, Trump is following the tradition of turning to a Western politician to lead the department whose footprint is biggest in that part of the country.

Nine of the last 10 confirmed Interior secretaries hailed from western states; the outlier was Donald Hodel of Virginia, who served as both President Ronald Reagan’s Energy secretary and his Interior secretary.

The Interior Department has a broad-ranging role overseeing energy development, grazing, recreation and other activities on more than 500 million acres of land -- about a fifth of the U.S. It also regulates energy development on the outer continental shelf, including offshore wind farms and drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

Trump’s frequent criticism of restrictions throttling U.S. oil and gas development includes a swath of measures emerging from the Interior Department. Energy developers have criticized its handling of endangered species, recent Bureau of Land Management mandates governing oil and gas wells on public land and limits on coal mining.

Trump has vowed to immediately reverse a temporary ban on the sale of new federally owned coal that was imposed by Obama’s Interior Department in January.

The next Interior secretary also will face oil industry pressure to open up new coastal areas for drilling, including Arctic and Atlantic waters that were excluded from the Obama administration’s recently released plan for selling offshore leases from 2017 to 2022.

‘Slap in the Face’

Environmentalists bristled at the pick, though McMorris Rodgers did not earn the same fiery criticism they leveled at Trump’s decision to nominate Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, described the selection as "a slap in the face of science."

“As secretary of the Interior, McMorris Rogers would be tasked with protecting and preserving our treasured national parks and public lands for the sake of future generations and our country’s long-term environmental health," Hauter said in an e-mailed statement. "Yet based on her voting record, McMorris Rogers seemingly holds a blatant disregard for our environment and the sanctity of these fragile places. She sees these lands as nothing more than a revenue source for polluting fossil fuel drillers."

Because of her track record supporting energy development on federal lands and waters, McMorris Rodgers is like posting a "for sale" sign on our public lands, said Gene Karpinski, head of the League of Conservation Voters. "She simply should not be put in charge of stewarding America’s wildlife, national parks and other majestic landscapes."

‘Hopeful’ Vision

McMorris Rodgers is among just 22 Republican women serving in the 435-member House, and would have been the only woman in House GOP leadership in the next Congress.

She was chosen to give the Republican rebuttal to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in 2014, winning acclaim within her party for her understated and smooth manner as she shared a "more hopeful Republican vision."

McMorris Rodgers showed her political toughness in her first bid for the conference chairwoman’s job, winning a hard-fought race against Representative Tom Price of Georgia, who has been named by Trump to Secretary of Health and Human Services. 

The race came as the party was dealing with a disappointing November 2012 election and deciding on its future path. Price was the choice of those who wanted to retrench into Tea Party conservatism, while McMorris Rodgers presented a more moderate face. Price had been backed by Paul Ryan, then the party’s 2012 vice-presidential nominee and the Budget Committee chairman. At the time, she was conference vice-chairwoman.

Though she won, there were bruises. The Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent watchdog, recommended that the House Ethics Committee investigate whether she improperly used official funds in the leadership race and for campaign-related activities. The committee said in March 2014 it was reviewing the matter but didn’t appoint a special investigative panel. The ethics panel hasn’t formally dropped the matter.

McMorris Rodgers, a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, hasn’t been a major policy leader in the House, but she has been active on issues relating to research and support for disabled people.

She underscored her staunch opposition to abortion in January 2015 when she supported legislation that would have barred terminating pregnancies after the 20th week. Other Republican women helped scuttle a vote on the bill, contending its exceptions for rape and incest were too narrow. McMorris Rodgers later helped negotiate a compromise version.

Party Loyalty

Her political views place her in the mainstream of House Republicans. McMorris Rodgers has voted for the party’s position more than 95 percent of the time, according to a Washington Post database.

She voted for Trump, though she also criticized him for his crude remarks about women in a 2005 video that became public during the campaign. “It is never appropriate to condone unwanted sexual advances or violence against women,’’ she said in a statement.

McMorris Rodgers was born in Oregon; her family later became fruit farmers in eastern Washington. She earned a bachelor’s degree in pre-law at Pensacola Christian College in 1990 and a master’s in business administration from the University of Washington. 

She is married to Brian Rodgers, a retired Navy commander, and is the only lawmaker to give birth three times while in Congress. One of their children, Cole, was born in 2007 with Down syndrome.

She began her political career as an aide to a member of the Washington state House, and was appointed to his seat in 1994 when he moved to the state Senate. She served in the state House for more than a decade, including a stint as minority leader, before running for Congress.

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