Senators stick by Trump, but how close?

Photo by Liz Ruskin

WASHINGTON — It’s a messy process, and unusually slow, but President Donald Trump made headway this week in filling his cabinet. Alaska’s U.S. senators have helped him, in different degrees. With a new, colorful president in the White House, each of them has to decide how close to stand to the standard-bearer of their party.

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The vote on one controversial nominee in the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee was unanimous, 11-0, but only because the Democrats refused to show up.

“The nomination of Attorney General Scott Pruitt to be EPA administrator is approved and reported,” the committee chairman announced Thursday, after Democrats boycotted the committee for a second day.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said the Democrats were throwing a “Senatorial temper tantrum.”

“And as all the parents here know, temper tantrums waste a lot of energy but they don’t accomplish anything,” Sullivan said.

Both of Alaska’s senators called on candidate Trump to remove himself from the ticket during the campaign. But of the two, Sullivan has hewed a bit closer to the new president. More clearly than the rest of the Alaska delegation, Sullivan defended Trump’s order blocking refugee admissions. Wednesday (Jan. 31), after Sen. Lisa Murkowski broke Republican ranks to say she will oppose Education Nominee Betsy DeVos, Sullivan said he’d vote for DeVos.

Yahoo News Anchor Katie Couric asked Murkowski: “Are you bracing yourself for a critical tweet by Donald Trump?”

That drew one wry chuckle.

“You know, I cannot live in fear of a tweet,” Murkowski said.

It was just after Thursday’s National Prayer Breakfast. Couric played her a bit of Trump’s speech, where he boasted about his ratings on “The Apprentice” compared to his successor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“And I want to just pray for Arnold, if we can, for those ratings,” Trump said.

Couric asked Murkowski what she thought, and the Republican ventured to raise an eyebrow.

“It is, I think, rather extraordinary, given what the focus is at the National Prayer Breakfast, to bring up ratings in that manner,” Murkowski said, weighing each word.

Whatever the differences between the two senators, thus far, both have voted for all of Trump’s nominees to reach the Senate floor. The final DeVos vote is expected Monday or Tuesday. Unless another Republican defects, it appears DeVos has just enough votes to win confirmation.


Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Liz here.

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