Murkowski says she didn’t sink Tanden nomination

Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks to reporters at the Capitol in 2016. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

Sen. Lisa Murkowski told reporters it wasn’t anything she did that killed Neera Tanden’s chance to lead the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Murkowski met with Tanden Monday. Afterward, she said she was still considering whether to join Democrats on the vote to confirm her. She said she didn’t tell the White House she was a “no” vote.

“No. I never did,” she said. “They never asked.”

The White House announced Tuesday that Tanden withdrew her nomination. It was on the rocks in part because of barbed tweets she posted when she led a liberal policy group.

Reporters at the Capitol have been asking Murkowski about Tanden for days, especially since Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., declared he would vote against the OMB nominee. To keep the nomination alive, the White House had to win over at least one Republican, and Murkowski is among only a few swing senators to target.

Murkowski said she did not make any specific demands of the White House in exchange for her vote. 

Instead, she said she’s using the confirmation process to explain Alaska’s economic straits to nominees and why she opposes decisions that put federal land off-limits for oil development. 

“I’m saying, what can you do to help me? What can you do to help me?” Murkowski said. “Because we’ve got an industry that is really in a fragile position right now because of the administration executive orders.”

The episode shows the power Murkowski could hold in an evenly divided Senate, on nominations and other matters that can be decided by a simple majority.

Murkowski said any senator could be the pivot point on a nomination, as long as they’re willing to consider crossing the aisle. She said she’s not relieved that Tanden withdew.

“Now it means that I’m going to have to do the Alaska tutorial 101 all over again with whoever it is that they name, because I need this person to understand our challenges,” she said.

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org.