Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Wednesday privately reassured Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is facing severe criticism from President Donald Trump and others for being the lone GOP vote against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the Alaska Republican told reporters Wednesday.
Trump said over the weekend that Murkowski will “never recover” with Alaska voters, a suggestion she dismissed.
“I know Alaska’s political terrain better than he does,” Murkowski told reporters after meeting with McConnell in his leadership suite in the Capitol.
“He did want me to know he had shared his strong words, supportive words on my behalf, which I greatly appreciate,” Murkowski said of McConnell.
In a morning interview with the Associated Press, McConnell defended Murkowski against attacks by Trump.
“She’s certainly going to recover,” McConnell told the AP. “This is a woman who got elected with a write-in vote in 2010. She’s about as strong as you can possibly be in Alaska. Nobody is going to beat her.”
McConnell understands the political considerations each member of his conference must weigh when confronting big, difficult votes – like confirming Kavanaugh – and that moderates from purple states are in a different position than conservatives from red states. He also knows that without Murkowski in the Senate, he could easily be the minority leader and not the majority leader.
When Murkowski emerged from the meeting with McConnell, she paused before a small group of reporters and smiled.
“I can breathe in front of reporters,” she said, referring to the cat-and-mouse games she played with journalists who relentlessly pursued her around the Capitol prior to the vote on Kavanaugh.
“We had just a good conversation,” she said of the session with McConnell, which only lasted a few minutes. “He did want to make sure that I knew that he had said some complimentary words about me and my support back home. I think he knows that the Alaska constituency might be a little bit different than in other states.”
Asked if she was frustrated by Trump’s remarks about her, Murkowski was cautious.
“The President is able to say clearly what the President wishes to say,” she said. “My barometer is not necessarily what the President says but what the people of Alaska say.”
Murkowski said voters in her state were evenly split on Kavanaugh, whose confirmation process was contentious even before he was accused of sexually assaulting a teenager when they were both in high school.
“You knew going into it that if you vote one way, you’re going to make half the people happy and half the people not happy,” she explained. “I did my due diligence, I agonized, I considered and ultimately, I had a decision to make that was based on the best judgment that I had, and I had to follow my conscience.”
She echoed recent comments by McConnell who has argued that despite the divisive battle over Kavanaugh, the Senate can work in a bipartisan way, as it did last week when in addition to confirming Kavanaugh, the Senate passed major bills reauthorizing the FAA and combating opioids.
“Because so much of the coverage around here is the battles, the bickering, the fighting,” Murkowski said. “This observation that we can’t get anything done.”
The fourth-term senator acknowledged her controversial vote could cause her to be reprimanded by the Alaska Republican Party.
“There are consequences to every vote that we take, and I accept that, but I also cannot be driven out of fear of a tweet, of a reprimand, of a cross word,” she said.
Trump had warned Murkowski that Alaskans will have a long memory.
“She doesn’t run for four years … she’s lucky,” Trump told The Washington Post. “But they will not forget. They will never forget. What she did was unacceptable. Really unacceptable.”
Asked if she will run again, Murkowski responded cheerfully.
“I don’t have to make that decision for four years,” she said.