Murkowski’s healthcare vote causes a stir in Washington and Alaska

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks with reporters following her annual address to the Alaska Legislature on Feb. 22, 2017. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

The Alaska Dispatch News is reporting that the Trump Administration threatened to target Alaska as retribution for Senator Lisa Murkowski’s stand against Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act this week.

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The story stated that Senator Murkowski and Senator Dan Sullivan received calls from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke this week. During that call, Zinke reportedly told Sullivan that issues like the King Cove Road, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the placement of Alaskans in leadership positions at the Interior Department could be at stake.

Sullivan responded to an NBC reporter asking about the call regarding Murkowski’s healthcare vote.

“The sooner we can get back to cooperation between the administration on these issues and the chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee the better it’s going to be for Alaska and the better it’s going to be for the country. Particularly on the issues of resource development, energy dominance that the Secretary talks about — that has to include Alaska,” Sullivan said.

Murkowski is chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

A spokesperson for Sullivan has not returned several calls for comment. The Interior department also has not responded to a request for comment.

A spokesperson for Senator Murkowski’s office confirmed that she received a call from Interior Secretary Zinke. The spokesperson said Zinke told Murkowski that the President was displeased with her vote on the healthcare bill, but the spokesperson declined to elaborate further.

This follows a tweet from the President criticizing Murkowski’s vote, stating that she “let the Republicans and our country down.”

In an emailed statement, Murkowski said, “while I have disagreed with the Senate process so far, the President and I agree that the status quo with healthcare in our country is not acceptable and reforms must be made.”

The Senator added she is committed to pushing for an open process to ensure Alaskans receive affordable healthcare. On Friday, she was one of three Republican senators who voted against a partial repeal.

So how do Alaskans feel about all this?  At the busy Fred Meyer in Midtown Anchorage, Zachary Stephens was picking up water before a fishing trip when he stopped to talk about Murkowski’s vote.

“I think that she is a Democrat posing as a Republican and she should have voted on the complete repeal,” Stephens said.

Stephens said he thinks Murkowski should act based on what Alaskans want, not just on what the Trump Administration wants her to do. But he doesn’t think Murkowski should ignore the potential consequences of her vote.

“I hope that Sen. Murkowski does what’s in the best interest of Alaska, and so if she’s getting that kind of pressure about energy and stuff from the Presidential administration, that she does what’s going to be right for her constituents,” said Stephens.

Anchorage resident William Gooch, who was also on his way in to Fred Meyer, had a different view on Murkowski’s stand.

“I think, you know, she’s got some principles, bearing in mind we’re grading on a curve. So I’m glad she did the vote,” Gooch said.

Gooch didn’t have much time for the Interior Secretary’s actions.

“That’s bulls—,” Gooch said.  “I’m not paying much attention to what these guys are tweeting on their little tweeters.”

Murkowski isn’t up for re-election until 2022.

Elizabeth Harball is a reporter with Alaska's Energy Desk, covering Alaska’s oil and gas industry and environmental policy. She is a contributor to the Energy Desk’s Midnight Oil podcast series. Before moving to Alaska in 2016, Harball worked at E&E News in Washington, D.C., where she covered federal and state climate change policy. Originally from Kalispell, Montana, Harball is a graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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