Wednesday afternoon, Alaska’s two Republican senators got surprising phone calls from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke insinuating that the Trump administration would punish the state should Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) continue to oppose Obamacare repeal efforts.
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) told the Alaska Dispatch News about the discussion:
"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. The Interior secretary also contacted Murkowski, he said.
Sullivan said the Interior secretary was clear that his message was in response to the no vote Murkowski cast Tuesday on the motion to proceed with debate on the House-passed health care legislation.
Sullivan told the Alaska Dispatch News that Murkowski, who voted against the bill, received a similar call.
President Trump has been publicly critical of Murkowski, who has so far refused to support Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
But the call from Zinke takes this tense relationship to a new level, as Sullivan read it as the administration trying to tether Murkowski’s support for a health care vote to other priorities the state might care about. The Department of the Interior is not an agency that deals with health care. It is the agency that oversees federal lands and natural resources.
The Senate is expected to vote as early as Thursday afternoon on a bill that repeals part of the Affordable Care Act. The Trump administration is sending a clear message to Murkowski: Support the bill or risk significant consequences.