While Murkowski and Young steer toward middle ground in weekend statements, Sullivan tacked to their right

pillars and dome of u.s. capitol
U.S. Capitol. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski rarely does the Sunday TV talk shows, but she went on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. It was a showcase of bipartisanship, and Murkowski also broke some news.

Alaska Public Media’s Liz Ruskin and Casey Grove discussed what Murkowski had to say, and the differences among her, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan and Congressman Don Young in their responses to their party’s declaration that the Jan. 6 committee was persecuting “ordinary citizens” engaged in “legitimate political discourse.”

Listen here:

The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

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Casey Grove: Liz, tell us why this TV appearance was significant.

Liz Ruskin: Well, Murkowski, as you know, is a Republican, and she was on with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a Democrat. They are moderates in an ever-polarizing Senate in an ever-polarized nation. So it was a rare display of two opposite-party senators talking about pragmatic legislative goals. Host Jake Tapper framed it as a hopeful sign, a possible way out of hyper-partisan gridlock. But I have to say, they said things that probably had their more partisan constituents throwing stuff at their televisions.

CG: Okay, like what?

LR: For one, Murkowski said she thought it was time for a Black woman to be nominated to the Supreme Court. That’s what President Biden says he plans to do, and a lot of Republicans have called him out on it, saying that limiting his search by race and gender is offensive. But Murkowski endorsed his approach. She says he’s got plenty of highly qualified Black female candidates to choose from. Here’s Murkowski from that CNN appearance:

Murkowski: “I want to make sure that the president nominates an exceptional candidate, an exceptional individual. And I would be honored to be able to support an exceptional African American woman.”

RELATED: Murkowski, breaking with GOP, says Biden is right to nominate a Black woman to Supreme Court

CG: Liz, I heard Manchin also endorsed Murkowski in her reelection. That’s unusual because they’re of different parties. But does it help her?

LR: I don’t think it gets her any votes, or it’s hard to imagine that it does, but it was a very Kumbaya moment. Casey, let’s talk about another move she made this weekend to claim middle ground. On Saturday, she condemned her party, the Republican National Committee, for calling the events of Jan. 6 last year “legitimate political discourse.”

CG: Let’s back up a sec. On Friday, the RNC censured two Republican House members for participating in the investigative committee looking into the attack on the Capitol.

LR: Yeah. And the RNC statement said they that these Republicans on the committee are persecuting “ordinary citizens” engaged in “legitimate political discourse.” A few Republicans took issue with that description right away. Murkowski issued a rebuke on Saturday in an emailed statement. It was short but really kind of sweeping. Murkowski said:

Murkowski: What happened on Jan. 6, 2021, was an effort to overturn a lawful election resulting in violence and destruction at the Capitol. We must not legitimize those actions which resulted in loss of life and we must learn from that horrible event so history does not repeat itself. As Americans, we must acknowledge those tragic events and we cannot allow a false narrative to be created. We cannot deny the truth. To suggest it was ‘legitimate political discourse’ is just wrong.”

Congressman Don Young, in a Twitter post, also condemned the RNC statement:

Young: “I was appalled at the violence and destruction at the Capitol on January 6th. What transpired was criminal, un-American, and cannot be considered legitimate protest.”

LR: The congressman’s statement seems slightly more limited, or at least less explicit, than Murkowski’s. She condemned not just the violence but the reason for the riot. She said it was an effort to overturn a lawful election. Maybe Young’s getting at that when he said it was “un-American.”

CG: And of course, there’s one more member of the Alaska congressional delegation — Sen. Dan Sullivan. What about him?

LR: On social media this weekend, he claimed a very different spot on the political spectrum — well to the right of Young and Murkowski. He posted a video of himself standing with Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson and Eagle River Assemblywoman Jamie Allard at a truck rally on Sunday, protesting the vaccine mandate for truckers going through Canada. Here’s Sullivan at the rally:

Sullivan: “I do not believe that the federal government, and particularly the president of the United States, has the power to look at American citizens and say, either you get vaccinated or you get fired from your job.”

CG: As far as Sen. Sullivan reacting to his party statement about Jan. 6, being “legitimate political discourse,” it sounds like it took him a little bit longer to come out with a statement about that.

LR: Right. I got no response on Friday, and there was nothing on his social media channels this weekend. But I asked Sullivan’s office again on Monday, and I did get a statement. Sullivan’s office said the violence at the Capitol was a disgrace and should be prosecuted. He added a defense of the peaceful protesters that day — he said they were exercising their rights. And he said that violence is never legitimate political discourse, especially against police officers. He also said the important thing is to look to the future and to try to rein in the Biden administration. So he broke his silence on this and reasserted his condemnation of the violence at the Capitol.

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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.