Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said Thursday she was contacted by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in the wake of her vote to oppose GOP efforts to advance the party’s health care bill earlier this week.
Murkowski was responding to a reporter’s question on Capitol Hill regarding a story in the Alaska Dispatch News that said Zinke called both her and the state’s other Republican senator, Dan Sullivan, to warn them that Alaska’s standing with the administration was at risk due to Murkowski’s dissent.
The conversation with Zinke was about more than just health care and included a discussion about energy, Murkowski said in comments aired live by MSNBC.
But it’s notable that Zinke, whose department has no direct role in efforts to reform health care, would bring up the issue with a sitting senator.
In an interview with E&E News Thursday, Murkowski elaborated on the call she had with Zinke calling it “difficult,” and adding that “it was not a very pleasant call.”
Murkowski said that during the call, ZInke told her, “the President is really disappointed in what he perceives to be as your lack of support for health care reform.”
But Murkowski said she responded with a promise to “accomplish good things” for her state and the US.
“This is what we’re going to do together,” she said, according to E&E. “And right now, the President expressed his disappointment, and what I’m going to do is continue working in good faith with everybody on everything.”
In a statement to CNN, Murkowski said that although she has “disagreed with the Senate process so far, the President and I agree that the status quo with health care in our country is not acceptable and that reforms must be made. I continue working to find the best path for what I believe will achieve that – a committee process where we can work issues in the open and ensure Alaskans have the health care choices they want, the affordability they need, and the quality of care they deserve.”
Murkowski chairs the Senate energy and natural resources committee and frequently references Alaska priorities in her position. She also oversees the confirmation process for the Interior Department.
A committee hearing on nominations to the Department of Interior and Department of Energy that was scheduled for Thursday was postponed Wednesday afternoon without a determined reschedule date.
Murkowski told CNN Thursday that the nominations vote was delayed just to work out a “little bump.”
“We want to get it worked out before we take it up. We just postponed it so we can take it up,” she said.
Murkowski responded no when asked if delay was part of a bigger motive to use leverage against the Trump administration.
“These are important people that need to get through,” she said.
Nicole Daigle, communications director for Murkowski’s energy committee staff, told CNN that the business meeting was “postponed due to uncertainty of the Senate schedule.”
Messages left with Zinke and Sullivan’s office were not returned Thursday.
Sullivan told the ADN that the call he received from Zinke wrought a “troubling message.”
“I’m not going to go into the details, but 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.
“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 said.
Sullivan categorized the conversation he had with Zinke as “clear” and said it was in direct response to the vote Murkowski cast Tuesday against the motion to proceed with debate on the House-passed health care legislation. Sullivan has supported this week’s votes on health care.
President Donald Trump slammed Murkowski over her votes Wednesday morning, tweeting, “Senator @lisamurkowski of the Great State of Alaska really let the Republicans, and our country, down yesterday. Too bad.”
Murkowski responded to Trump Wednesday afternoon.
“My vote yesterday was from my heart for the people that I represent,” Murkowski told CNN. “I’m going to continue working hard for Alaskans and focus on that.”
The President has regularly rebuked GOP members of Congress in public for opposing the party in its efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, going to far as to subtly warn Republicans that their political futures could be in jeopardy if they don’t support his efforts.
“Any senator who votes against repeal and replace is telling America that they are fine with the Obamacare nightmare, and I predict they’ll have a lot of problems,” he said at a rally in Youngstown, Ohio, Tuesday night.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who was the only other Republican senator aside from Murkowski to oppose Tuesday’s motion to proceed vote, told reporters on Capitol Hill Thursday she had not received any threats from the White House.
CNN’s Dan Merica, MJ Lee and Rene Marsh contributed to this report.