Trump administration reportedly threatens Alaska over senator’s health care vote

Andrew Bahl
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) heads for the Senate floor for a vote at the U.S. Capitol on July 26, 2017, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, confirmed Thursday that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke contacted her after her vote against a health care bill earlier this week. The conversation reportedly involved threats of administrative retribution against her home state.

A Murkowski spokesperson told Yahoo News that the moderate Alaska lawmaker received a call from Zinke on Wednesday, and he “told her that the president wasn’t pleased with the vote that she took.”

Trump also expressed those feelings publicly Wednesday, when he tweeted that Murkowski “really let the Republicans, and our country, down yesterday” when she voted against moving to begin debate in the Senate on a series of health care bills.

But Zinke reportedly went beyond those sentiments, the Alaska Dispatch News reported Thursday morning. Alaska’s other GOP senator, Dan Sullivan, told the Dispatch News that the interior secretary had “a troubling message” and that he threatened to curb department projects in Alaska over the matter.

“I tried to push back on behalf of all Alaskans. … We’re facing some difficult times and there’s a lot of enthusiasm for the policies that Secretary Zinke and the president have been talking about with regard to our economy. But the message was pretty clear,” Sullivan told Alaska’s biggest newspaper, saying both he and Murkowski were contacted.

The appointments of Alaskans to top interior posts, as well as infrastructure projects and expanded drilling in the state’s National Petroleum Reserve, are potentially on the line, according to Dispatch News.

“I fear that the strong economic growth, pro-energy, pro-mining, pro-jobs and personnel from Alaska who are part of those policies are going to stop,” Sullivan said.

In a statement to Yahoo News, Murkowski’s office said both she and the president “agree the status quo with health care in our country is not acceptable.”

“I pledged early on that I would work with the President to help advance Alaska’s interests. I will continue to do that — to help build and strengthen our economy, keep the promises made to us as a state, and ensure access to healthcare,” Murkowski said in the statement.

For her part, Murkowski appeared unfazed by Trump’s tweet on Wednesday and maintained that she would act in the best interests of Alaska, which could be hit hard by any health care reform.

“We’re here to govern. We’re here to legislate. We’re here to represent the people who sent us here. And so every day shouldn’t be about campaigning. Every day shouldn’t be about winning elections. How about just doing a little bit of governing around here? That’s what I’m here for,” Murkowski said Wednesday.

Murkowski is not without leverage in the dispute. As the chair of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Murkowski will be able to control nomination hearings for Interior Department posts. A meeting to confirm a series of appointments to Zinke’s department was postponed Thursday, the committee announced. A spokesperson claimed that the delay was due to scheduling uncertainty.

And Murkowski is also the chair of an appropriations subcommittee centered on the Interior Department.

Concerns have also been raised that Zinke’s actions could prompt a review from the department’s inspector general. At least one Democratic congressman said that he would request an investigation into Zinke’s potential threats.

“Running a department of the federal government means you serve the American people as a protector of their rights and freedoms,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee. “It doesn’t mean you serve the president as a bagman for his political vendettas.”

The Interior Department did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.

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