WASHINGTON — Their tensions exploded on Friday into one of the more remarkable public feuds in recent Washington history — a brutal exchange that began with Mr. Grijalva calling on Mr. Zinke to resign, followed by Mr. Zinke calling Mr. Grijalva a drunkard who had used taxpayer “hush money” to cover up misbehavior, and Mr. Grijalva telling Mr. Zinke to, in effect, bring it on.
“It’s hard for him to think straight from the bottom of the bottle,” Mr. Zinke wrote on Twitter, in a message that left many in the Capitol slack-jawed. “This is coming from a man who used nearly $50,000 in tax dollars as hush money to cover up his drunken and hostile behavior. He should resign and pay back the taxpayer for the hush money and the tens of thousands of dollars he forced my department to spend investigating unfounded allegations.”
He included “#TuneInnForMore,” a reference to the Tune Inn, a popular Capitol Hill watering hole that Mr. Grijalva frequents. The congressman was there on Friday when Mr. Zinke blasted out his tweet to his more than 88,000 followers, according to a report in E&E News.
The “hush money” reference was to a 2015 agreement between Mr. Grijalva and a former House employee who had accused him of overseeing a hostile work environment and frequently being drunk. The employee had threatened to file a lawsuit, and was paid $48,395 in severance.
Mr. Grijalva has acknowledged that a severance package was paid to an employee but has insisted that he does “not work while drunk” and that he has never had a hostile workplace environment. Still, he did tell a Tucson television station earlier this year that he beat “the demons” of alcohol when he was younger. A House ethics board looked into the severance payment and recommended that a complaint against Mr. Grijalva be dismissed.
Mr. Grijalva declined an interview request on Friday, but shot back at Mr. Zinke with a statement of his own: “The American people know who I’m here to serve, and they know in whose interests I’m acting. They don’t know the same about Secretary Zinke.”
“My jaw did literally drop when I read Zinke’s tweet” Mr. Weiss said in an interview.
A Republican former congressman from Montana, Mr. Zinke, 57, is a constant target of liberals and environmentalists who have criticized him for his work to weaken environmental rules and for what they call his suspect ethical conduct.
Then the Democratic leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, jumped to Mr. Grijalva’s defense, also on Twitter.
“We couldn’t have a clearer contrast with the values-based leadership of @RepRaulGrijalva to protect the planet for our children than @SecretaryZinke’s toxic, special interest agenda,” Ms. Pelosi wrote.