"I assume he felt like he had the authority to say, 'Florida has a federal moratorium, they have a united delegation, I'm going to go ahead and exempt them,' and maybe he got some pushback from the president for doing that," Taylor said. "I don't know the answer to that specifically, but that's what it seems like."
Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, said Taylor's optimism about Virginia made sense.
Grijalva said Zinke is being directed to help lawmakers, such as Taylor, who face tough election fights. Getting exemptions mean they could take credit for the change if their states get relief from a drilling plan unpopular among their constituents.
There was speculation after the Florida exemption announcement that the decision was made as a favor to Republican Gov. Rick Scott, a close Trump ally who is expected challenge to vulnerable Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson.
In addition to Taylor, a slew of retirements from moderate New Jersey Republicans could result in Democrats winning those seats. Another Trump ally, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, also opposes offshore drilling and is facing election this year.
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"What you're going to see at the end is some political accommodations," Grijalva told McClatchy. "Nothing was thought out. Nobody was consulted. (The administration) just listened to industry and now they have to backtrack politically to try to protect their vulnerables."
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