WASHINGTON (CNN) - Sen. Maria Cantwell blasted Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Tuesday, calling his recent comments questioning his employees' loyalty to the US a "cheap shot."
Cantwell, who represents Washington and is the top Democrat on the Senate energy and natural resources committee, said in a statement that Interior Department employees instead "deserve respect from the man charged with leading them -- not cheap shots in the press."
Cantwell was reacting to comments Zinke made Monday in a speech to an oil industry group where he said 30 percent of employees at his department lack loyalty and were at odds with the Trump administration.
"I got 30 percent of the crew that's not loyal to the flag," Zinke said, according to the Associated Press. "There's too many ways in the present process for someone who doesn't want to get (a regulatory action) done to put it in a holding pattern."
The Interior Department did not immediately return a request for comment from CNN.
"Secretary's Zinke's comments yesterday betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of federal civil service," Cantwell said in a statement. "They are non-political employees charged with implementing and enforcing laws passed by Congress and have incredible domain expertise in their areas of responsibility. Replacing them with purely political people will not protect our public lands or protect taxpayers from special interest sweetheart deals."
Since Zinke took on the role of secretary in March to lead the 70,000-employee department, he's worked to cut regulations on public lands including expanding access to hunters and the fossil fuel industry.