Shortly after Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) voted against a motion Tuesday to move forward with debate on healthcare legislation, the Trump administration’s Interior secretary reportedly contacted her and Alaskan Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan, warning of retaliation.
According to the Alaska Dispatch News, both senators received phone calls on Wednesday afternoon from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Sullivan said the secretary's message was clear: Murkowski's "no" vote on healthcare had imperiled Alaska's relationship with the White House, which could affect a range of issues -- including energy development.
"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 told the newspaper.
"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."
It was unclear how the dustup would eventually play out. Murkowski chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, whose powers include overseeing the confirmation process for posts at Interior. A committee business meeting that was scheduled to consider nominations for top posts at Interior and the Department of Energy was postponed indefinitely on Wednesday.
Murkowski joined Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and all 48 Senate Democrats in voting against the motion to proceed with debate on the healthcare bill. The legislation was able to proceed, however, after Vice President Mike Pence cast a tiebreaking vote to break the 50-50 deadlock.
In an interview with the newspaper on Tuesday night, Murkowski said she voted no "because I didn't think that we were ready for the debate. And I have said pretty consistently that process really does matter, particularly when you're dealing with something that is as direct and personal as healthcare, something that has an impact on one-sixth of the nation's economy."
Trump criticized Murkowski on Twitter Wednesday morning, saying in part she "really let the Republicans, and our country, down." But the Tweet didn't appear to bother the senator. In a separate interview, she told the Associated Press that she was "comfortable with the decision that I made...in working to advance Alaska's interests and working today to do the same...
"I don't really follow Twitter that much," she quipped.
Alaska is host to a bevy of energy issues.
Earlier this month, Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management gave conditional approval for a subsidiary of Italy's Eni SpA to drill four exploratory wells on an artificial island in the Beaufort Sea, on leases the company acquired back in 2005.
Separately, Interior, at the behest of Trump, launched a 45-day public comment period in June over a new five-year offshore leasing program designed to open up more of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) to energy development. Murkowski, Sullivan and 34 other Senate Republicans expressed support for the new program in a letter to Zinke on Wednesday.
Also in June, Interior's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement doubled the amount of time oil and natural gas operators have to coordinate operations and retain their leases in federal waters of the OCS.
Zinke signed a secretarial order that included provisions tojump-start oil and gas production in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska on May 31.
Last April, Murkowski and Sullivan introduced S 883, also known as the Offshore Production and Energizing National Security Alaska Act of 2017, or OPENS Act that calls for offshore lease sales in the Beaufort Sea and Cook Inlet, and to reverse a decision made during the waning days of the Obama administration to withdraw leasing areas of the Arctic's OCS. But the bill has not made any progress in the Senate.
Also in April, Alaska's state-owned natural gas corporation, the Alaska Gasline Development Corp., filed a permit application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the Alaska LNG Project, a pipeline and natural gas liquefaction project that would commercialize the state's stranded North Slope gas reserves.