Murkowski: Don’t Read Too Much Into It

This excellent assessment of Lisa Murkowski’s future in the U-S Senate was originally broadcast on APRN stations on December 23, 2010.    It is one of the best political pieces written this year on Murkowski,   and we apologize for not printing it sooner.

By Libby Casey

As Congress travels home for the holidays, the pundits in Washington are analyzing the last few weeks of the Lame Duck session.  And the name of one of Alaska’s Republicans is surfacing as a person to watch:  Lisa Murkowski.  Her recent swing votes in the Senate helped President Obama and Democrats win some of their big priorities.  But Murkowski says don’t read too much into it

Senator Murkowski was the only Republican to vote for all three of the President’s big Lame Duck priorities:  a tax cut compromise, the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and the new START treaty.  She was also one of only a trio of Republicans to support the DREAM Act, a Democratic bill that would’ve let illegal immigrant children work toward citizenship by going to college or joining the military.

On MSNBC Thursday, Politico Reporter Ken Vogel said she’s positioning herself to wield influence.

So it’s looking increasingly like she could be that power broker, who could give Harry Reid and the White House the votes necessary to either break a filibuster, give the Democrats a filibuster proof majority or even be a point person on some of these key issues the Democrats have identified as ones they’ll pursue in this next Congress.

But Murkowski says don’t assume she’s the President’s new Republican ally.

Well, for those that would say that I’m somehow a reliable vote for Obama, if you’d asked President Obama that at any other point in the year not to so much (laughs).  I think back at other votes this year:  financial regulatory reform not there for him, health care reform, not there.  So many of the initiatives, the big ticket initiatives the administration has tried to advance, I just felt were bad policy.

Murkowski explains her recent votes:  the tax cut compromise was brokered with the Republican leadership, so Murkowski’s vote is in line with many of her colleagues’.  She says the DREAM Act could matter in Alaska, with its strong and growing immigrant population.  She points to the advice of military leaders – not the President – that convinced her on the START Treaty – and influenced her vote on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

But bottom line, Murkowski says, she’s focused on where Alaskans stand on the issues, like on gays in the military.

That is an issue that I heard from Alaskans throughout the campaign.  We received a great deal of correspondence on the issue, and on the whole the support from Alaskans for repeal of DADT is one that I have been hearing for quite some time.  So timing is everything.

Murkowski’s recent votes have lined up with Alaska’s Democratic Senator, Mark Begich.  But he says Murkowski’s support for some of his priorities say more about the Democrats – and how they’re not the “socialist, liberal” group that some on the right have claimed.

I think in case of Senator Murkowski, she has to make own decisions as we move forward.  But a lot of the decisions that are being made I think are very moderate issues.  They’re not extreme.  As Republicans take over the House, there’s a shared responsibility to move our country forward.  And I think in the case of Senator Murkowski she sees a lot of these issues… they’re issues I’ve supported, and she’s supporting them now too.

Murkowski was disavowed by the Senate Republican leadership when she launched her write-in bid in September.  That’s caused speculation on Capitol Hill that she’s now rebelling against the Party.  But Murkowski says the relationship really hasn’t changed, and that she’s not getting pressured by fellow Republicans.

People are very respectful within the conference.  If they think you haven’t made up your mind, sometimes you’re sitting next to someone at lunch, they tell you let me tell you what I’m thinking.  But when I made my position known on DADT that was like 10 days ago.  It was relatively far out in front of the vote.  I got no pressure from colleagues saying oh my gosh, what are you doing.

Murkowski recently had lunch with the Senate’s two most conservative members, who often criticize Alaska’s spending projects:  Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Jim DeMint of South Carolina.  Also at their table – Senator John McCain, who was fighting Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the START Treaty.  DeMint was the Senate’s biggest supporter of Murkowski’s Republican challenger, Joe Miller, and has poured money into his campaign coffers.  But the South Carolina Senator said on Wednesday that it looks like Murkowski’s here to stay… and that he can handle dealing with more moderate Republicans.

No need to keep wishing, we’ll work with what we’ve got.

Murkowski’s votes have pegged her in a category of lawmakers in the middle.  As the margins in the Senate grow tighter in January, centrist votes – like those of both Murkowski and Begich – will be even more in play.

One of the lions of the Senate, Hawaii Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye, says both of Alaska’s senators can be effective in the Congress to come.

I think Lisa and Mark will do their things.  They’re good people.

Lisa Murkowski shrugs off a reporter’s question of whether her seemingly centrist territory gives her more power.

I still only have one vote.  You know I don’t think that power is the right word.  I think that what happens when it’s recognized that you may be more open to listening to another members’ perspective on a bill — they’ll come and sit down and talk to you.  If you send signal that you know I don’t ever vote for anything that costs any money, people don’t go talk to you.

She says her open-door gives her the chance to cooperate with colleagues.  Something she hopes will benefit both her office – and Alaska.



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