California Rep. Jeff Denham, a Republican who lost his bid for reelection, has spoken with White House officials about being nominated as Interior secretary, he confirmed Thursday.
“We’ve had a number of really good conversations. It’s been very positive,” Denham said in an interview.
The current secretary, Ryan Zinke, is facing numerous ethics investigations and announced Saturday that he would resign at the end of the year.
Denham said he has told President Trump and administration officials for over a year of his concerns about the department’s record in some areas where it has jurisdiction, including water policy,— and of his interest in taking over.
Denham, who is from Turlock and as a congressman has been a proponent of the Central Valley’s agriculture interests and water policy, said he’s been interested in the job for some time.
“It’s all the things that I have worked on for the last 16 years — water, our forests, a lot of our [agricultural] economy in California and federal properties,” Denham said. “It’s a good fit for me. I’m on the president’s list.”
Denham lost his bid for a fifth House term in November to Democrat Josh Harder, receiving 47.7% of the vote to Harder’s 52.3%. He was among seven California Republicans swept out of Congress this year, a result that all but decimated their party’s already small numbers in the state’s congressional delegation.
Denham has indirect ties to Trump that predate the president’s run for the White House. As chairman of the House Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management, Denham encouraged the federal government to lease the Old Post Office in Washington, which cost taxpayers millions of dollars to keep up. The lease went to the Trump Organization, which created what is now the Trump International Hotel, just blocks from the White House.
A White House spokesman would not comment on the Interior secretary position. Several other Republicans are thought to be in the mix, including Californian David Bernhardt, a former oil and gas lobbyist who has been Zinke’s second-in-command.