President-elect Donald Trump is considering Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., to head the Interior Department, a job that could put her in charge of nearly 500 million acres of public land and nearly 70,000 federal employees.
Trump has not made a decision and is still considering other applicants, a senior transition official with knowledge of the selection process but not authorized to speak publicly said Friday.
“No offer has been made,” the official said. “We are still looking at candidates.”
Others reportedly being considered are: Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Lucas Oil co-founder Forrest Lucas and former Colorado Rep. Bob Beauprez.
The department controls roughly 20 percent of the nation’s lands, including all parks and wildlife refugees. It’s the largest supplier of water for Western states and oversees issues involving more than 500 federally recognized Indian tribes.
McMorris Rodgers, 47, of Spokane, is a sixth-term member of Congress and the highest-ranking woman on the GOP leadership team. If she is chosen, she would be the second consecutive Interior Secretary from Washington state, succeeding Sally Jewell of Seattle.
Trump named McMorris Rodgers to his transition team, even though she was a lukewarm supporter of his earlier this year. When she voted for Trump in Washington state’s presidential primary in May, McMorris Rodgers made clear that she did it with reluctance.
“Did I cast my ballot with enthusiasm? Not exactly,” she said in a Facebook posting.
But she praised Trump for winning millions of supporters “by speaking his mind honestly, calling out the dysfunction in Washington, D.C., and talking outside the politically correct box.”
When the House passed an Interior appropriations bill in July, McMorris Rodgers said that “local communities and their leaders know how to manage their own land and the resources around them better than federal bureaucrats.”
And in 2012, she said that federal forests had become “sick,” as the federal government “stifles locally driven development” by removing land from private ownership.
“It is no coincidence that many of the counties with the largest unemployment rates in the country are those which are surrounded by federal forests,” she said in a speech to the Society of American Foresters.
Earlier, McMorris Rodgers backed the Firearms Freedom on Federal Lands Act, a bill to prohibit the federal government from enforcing any regulations if they interfere with state laws.
McMorris gained national attention in 2014, when she gave the GOP response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech. She described herself as the daughter of a bus driver who worked at a McDonald’s drive-thru to help pay her way to college.
Environmental groups didn’t wait to criticize her, noting that the League of Conservation Voters has given McMorris Rodgers a lifetime score of 4 percent and that the oil, gas and logging industries have been among her top 10 campaign contributors.
“McMorris Rodgers will put fossil fuels and logging ahead of the public lands and endangered species we all cherish,” said Randi Spivak, public lands program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Under McMorris Rodgers corporate polluters will have free rein. Endangered wolves and salmon, wild rivers, whales and our climate will all lose under this long-time servant of the oil, gas and timber industries. Senators who care about America’s beautiful wild places and our planet’s future should fight like hell to block this outrageous nomination.”
In 2013, McMorris Rodgers set two records: She became the first woman to give birth three times while in Congress and the first to do so while serving as a House leader.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that national forests are managed by the Interior Department. They are managed by the Department of Agriculture.