Ryan Zinke on New Administration, Congress: ‘We’ll Figure It Out’

In new book, Montana Republican extols Trump’s Defense pick, James Mattis

Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke lauded retired Gen. James Mattis as President-elect Donald Trump‘s choice for secretary of Defense, in his book, which was written long before Trump’s election. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke lauded retired Gen. James Mattis as President-elect Donald Trump‘s choice for secretary of Defense, in his book, which was written long before Trump’s election. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted December 12, 2016 at 2:21pm

When it comes to Donald Trump and James Mattis, Montana Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke is looking forward to the future.

“I’m actually excited about the next 100 days,” he said. “This election was deep in its change.”

“I’m an optimist, we’ll figure it out,” he added.

Zinke spoke at The Heritage Foundation in Washington last Friday about his new book “American Commander,” which details his service as a Navy SEAL.

His SEAL career began in 1985. He received two Bronze Stars for combat, before retiring in 2008. In 2014, he became the first SEAL elected to the House.

While he praised Mattis, whom Trump has nominated to be his secretary of Defense, he also made a point to commend veterans who are joining him on Capitol Hill, including GOP Rep.-elect Scott Taylor of Virginia, the second SEAL to be elected to the House.

“What I like about veterans is we don’t think about life in a red or blue lens. We look red, white and blue,” he said.

He also mentioned newly elected House Republicans Brian Mast of Florida, an Afghanistan combat vet, Jack Bergman of Michigan, a former commander of the Marine Corps Forces Reserve, and Don Bacon of Nebraska, a retired Air Force brigadier general, and spoke of the difficulties they might encounter in Congress.

“It was easier being a commander than it is a congressman,” he said. “If someone really upset me, I could target him.”

On Monday, Zinke met with Trump and senior transition communications aide Jason Miller at Trump Tower in New York. While writing his book, long before the election results, Zinke included a section about Mattis, whom he described as “a warrior and one of the most impressive commanders I ever met.”

“I’ll take a moment here and tell you about Mattis, because he’s an American hero,” he wrote. “He made a point of being in the thick of things with his troops. … He wasn’t an armchair general by any definition of that much-maligned term.”

At the Heritage event, Zinke said Mattis is going to “inherit a frustrated force” and the “challenge of just getting the morale back.”

He said the frustrations at the troop level were high because they don’t have the best tools.

“I feel like we’re too light [in] moving the needle,” he said. “If you’re going to move the needle, give me the tools.”

He said Mattis supports the rank and file in the military.

“He understands the backbone of our military is the sergeant,” he said. “He is absolutely the right, right guy.”

He said that while “great men” such as former Defense secretaries Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates have attempted to make the Pentagon less bureaucratic, “it takes a warrior like Mattis.”

Zinke and Mattis don’t see eye to eye on the role of women in combat, though. While Mattis has questioned whether women should be put into those roles, Zinke has a different take, using his daughter, a former Navy diver, as an example.

“If a female is capable of the physical part … I don’t think you should lower the standards,” he said.

“Then, let’s put her where she can do the most effective job,” he added. “There are a lot of areas, especially in the special operations world, where we need women who can do the standard.”

Being subject to censorship by the Defense Department was the hardest part of writing the book, Zinke said — “over 100 pages” had redactions, including “cultural redactions.”

“I honored it, I didn’t challenge it. But … I raised my eyebrow about censorship,” he said.

Speaking about the editorial process, Zinke said he was “horrified the first time” he read his book.

“It’s like taking all the stories of your life and putting it in a blender — you’re horrified the first time you read it,” he said.

But, he continued, “When you finish it, you come across with the idea of thanks. Thanks to our troops. It’s as hard as you think it is.”