In her annual address to the Alaska Legislature, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she does not support an effort to revoke federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and she is unwilling to reverse Medicaid expansion at the federal level unless the Alaska Legislature asks for it first.
Murkowski, Alaska’s senior senator, sought to assuage what she called “an undercurrent of anxiety running through much of Alaska right now.”
Speaking to reporters after her 26-minute speech, Murkowski said Alaskans are anxious because they fear the unknown about the Affordable Care Act, about the state’s economy and about the presidential administration of Donald Trump.
“I think the anxiety is real, and I see it in so many different areas,” Murkowski said in a later interview with the Empire.
On health care
“Right now with the ACA, there’s so much uncertainty,” Murkowski said as the shouts of Planned Parenthood supporters penetrated the Capitol’s walls from an event outside. “I would like to give some security about where I am coming from.”
During her speech to the Legislature, Murkowski said the Affordable Care Act “has failed, in so many ways, but some elements within it deserve to be saved.”
Murkowski said any new federal health care system must “prohibit insurers from discriminating against pre-existing conditions.”
It should also “protect mental health parity” and allow Americans younger than 26 to stay on their parents’ insurance policies.
Murkowski said she “will not support a reckless repeal process that leaves people hanging.”
She also believes Planned Parenthood funding is a separate issue from debates over the Affordable Care Act, and she “will not vote to deny Alaskans access to the health services that Planned Parenthood provides.”
Mute on Trump’s performance
Asked how she would rate Trump’s first month in office, she said she doesn’t “think it’s fair to give anybody a report card on its first month.”
“It is clear to say that there is still much that we have to learn about this administration. We don’t have a team in place. We are still getting them in place,” Murkowski said.
In response to another question, she added that the Trump administration “stepped in it” with the rollout of its immigration ban, but it has done some things well, such as the rollout of Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch.
“I thought it was very well executed and just a real reminder that we can see some very professional and polished performance come of that administration,” she said.
Potentially serious problems remain, however.
Murkowski said she supports an investigation by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee into the Trump administration’s ties to the Russian government, which may pre-date the November election.
“I support what the intelligence committee is doing right now in looking into the concerns relating with Russia,” Murkowski said.
Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, asked Murkowski during a scheduled question period whether the Trump administration will press Alaska law enforcement into the service of deporting illegal immigrants.
Murkowski responded that she believes Alaska’s cooperation with a recently announced Trump program is voluntary.
Mixed on cabinet appointees
According to statistics kept by the New York Times, Murkowski has voted “yes” on 13 of 14 Trump administration cabinet appointees so far.
On her one “no” vote, against Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Murkowski voted for DeVos in committee before voting against her on the floor.
In an interview with the Empire, Murkowski said it’s been her principle to defer to the president’s choice on cabinet members in committee so they can be subject to an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. She said she’s gone against that principle only once, with Tom Perez, Secretary of Labor under President Barack Obama.
“That’s been the one situation,” she said.
Murkowski did oppose the nomination of a Trump cabinet nominee that never made it to a floor vote. Murkowski confirmed that she was one of several Republican U.S. Senators who opposed the nomination of Andrew Puzder for Secretary of Labor.
Murkowski said she opposed his nomination because he employed an illegal immigrant for almost six years, failed to pay taxes on her employment, “and didn’t make steps to do that until after he had been named by the president to be part of his cabinet.”
Given that Puzder would have been in charge of wage and hour laws in the United States, “that to me was just too troubling, and it was not just me,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski did vote to confirm Scott Pruitt as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, even though Murkowski is a firm believer in climate change and Pruitt has in the past questioned its existence.
Before his nomination, Pruitt was a fierce critic of the EPA, but Murkowski said she believes his comments were directed at EPA overreach beyond the law. She believes he will be a firm supporter of clean-air and clean-water regulations.
Murkowski continues to support opening a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, and she continues to support offshore drilling in the Arctic. Both actions are supported by most Alaskans, polls indicate, and Murkowski received a loud round of applause from legislators when she said she wants to “restore throughput to our trans-Alaska Pipeline System,” a phrase that means more drilling in the far north.
“The next several years hold much economic promise for Alaska,” she said.
After her address, Murkowski was presented with a copy of the Legislature’s just-passed resolution in support of a road connecting King Cove and Cold Bay through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. Murkowski is a longtime supporter of that road.
Still a Republican
Murkowski told reporters that even though she isn’t following the Republican mainstream with regard to Planned Parenthood or expanded Medicaid, “I don’t feel that I am less of a Republican or more of a Republican” because of those views.
She said she will continue to do what she sees as best for Alaska, even if it isn’t what’s expected.
“I’m an Alaskan first and have always put that front and center, and so my politics ─ I think you’ve probably noticed ─ don’t always neatly align with the Republican party platform,” she said.
Contact reporter James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-7732.