Alaska Threatened by Trump Team on Senator's Obamacare Vote

  • Interior secretary linked public-lands issues to Obamacare
  • Alaska’s Republicans split in first vote on GOP health bill

Senate Prepares for All-Night Vote-a-Rama on Health Care

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has threatened Alaska’s senators with retribution on major energy and public-lands decisions because one of them voted against repealing Obamacare.

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski was one of only two Republicans Tuesday to vote against starting debate on a bill to repeal the health-care legislation. On Wednesday, Zinke called Murkowski and fellow Alaska Republican Senator Dan Sullivan.

"What the secretary shared with me was that the president was not pleased," she told reporters Thursday. "I think it’s very clear, based on my conversation with the secretary, that he was just sharing the concern that the president had expressed to him to pass on to me." 

Sullivan described his exchange with Zinke as a "troubling message" that raised the prospect of unfavorable decisions on federal policy for Alaska. Late on Thursday, two Democratic lawmakers requested that the Government Accountability Office and Interior’s inspector general determine whether the call violated the law.

"The message was pretty clear," Sullivan, who supported the Republican repeal effort, told the Alaska Dispatch News. "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."

More: GOP Pledge to Torch Obamacare Veers Toward Bare-Bones Repeal

Alaska is a major oil producer and the federal government is its largest landowner, with 60 percent of the total area.

A White House spokeswoman referred inquiries to the Interior Department, which didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Asked about Sullivan’s concern that there would repercussions for Alaska, Murkowski said: "I certainly hope that those in the administration will continue to work with all of us, all of the Alaska delegation, on priorities that are not only important to Alaska -- they are important to the country."

Murkowski, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, abruptly delayed committee votes scheduled for Thursday on several Interior Department nominations. She said the vote was canceled because of a "hiccup" with one of the nominees.

Without the support of Murkowski and Maine Senator Susan Collins, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had no extra votes in his bid to begin debate on the repeal of Obamacare, with Vice President Mike Pence casting the 51st vote, allowing the chamber to begin debating Republican plans to overhaul the health-insurance bill. The effort still faces an uncertain path as McConnell failed to get enough support for his overhaul bill and for a straight repeal of the law. The Senate continues to debate the measure.

Murkowski said she had "a difficult conversation" with President Donald Trump himself on Tuesday before the vote.

After she cast her no vote, Trump tweeted, "Senator @lisamurkowski of the Great State of Alaska really let the Republicans, and our country, down yesterday. Too bad!"

Investigation Request

Critics said it was one thing to criticize Murkowski but another to link the health-care vote to home-state issues she cares about. Raul Grijalva, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, requested the GAO investigation along with Frank Pallone of New Jersey. He called it "something we’d see from the Kremlin."

"Running a department of the federal government means you serve the American people as a protector of their rights and freedoms," Grijalva said in a statement. "It doesn’t mean you serve the president as a bag man for his political vendettas."

“Ryan Zinke is revealing himself as Trump’s hitman," said Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, a Denver-based public lands and energy watchdog group. "He’s now threatening to hold public lands and energy policy hostage over a health care bill. This is the U.S. government, not the Corleone family."

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