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The Murkowski Files



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After we editorialized Friday against the decision to retain Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) — who recently lost her GOP primary but continued to campaign as a write-in — as ranking member of the Senate energy committee, many of you wanted to know more about how the vote broke down. We’ve been asking senators whether they support Murkowski’s retaining her ranking status or not, and also getting their position on the Senate race in Alaska. Robert Costa in Washington has been button-holing senators (most of the responses come from his interviews in person), and NRI fellows Matt Shaffer and Brian Bolduc have been contacting their press offices.

First, though, a procedural complication. There were two questions before the Senate conference last week. One was whether to replace Murkowski as vice chairman of the conference. A vote occurred on that question, and she was replaced by Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming. The second was whether to accept the decision of the Republicans on the energy committee to strip her of her ranking status, which would go to the next in line, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina. The senators voted to table this question. So, technically they didn’t vote on the question, but they effectively acted to leave her in place and everyone understood the vote as such.

This was a secret ballot at a closed meeting, so getting senators to be forthcoming about what happened is like pulling teeth. We know DeMint voted against Murkowski. Amazingly, though, we’ve gotten only Inhofe and Sessions (via the Politico) on the record against Murkowski on the committee question. The others either say they support her retaining the committee position, or won’t say. If you’re a conservative primary voter, you’ll want to pay particular attention to those senators who are up in 2012. The list so far, which we’ll update as warranted:

Sen. Lamar Alexander

“I think the conference decided first to accept her resignation as vice chair of the conference, and we elected Senator Barrasso, a good conservative, to that position,” he says. “With one week to go in the legislative session, with no more business planned, doing anything else seemed unnecessary, so we just left the status quo. We simply took no more action, and that seemed to be sufficient.”

“It was a good discussion; almost all of the discussion [in the conference meeting] supported taking no further action,” he adds. “Joe Miller has my full support; I’m co-hosting a fundraiser for him on Tuesday, and have already given him $5,000.”

“If tea-party members and those who are concerned about the direction of our country are going to come into our primaries, then we need to respect the verdict in the primaries, or they won’t come back,” he says. “I welcome them — it produces some surprises, it makes things rowdier — but it also gives us a better chance to set the country off in a new direction.”

Sen. John Barrasso

He’s up for reelection in very-red Wyoming in 2012. The “conference [has] united behind Joe Miller,” he says. He continues, “She has resigned her position as vice chair of the conference, and I was elected unanimously to that position; the conference took no position at all on any of the ranking memberships of the committees.”

Sen. Bob Bennett

On Murkowski’s ranking status: “That question is now moot, because the energy committee won’t meet until after the election. If she wins the election, then she’s the senator from Alaska and she has her seniority, and I think she’s all right. If she loses her election, it’s not an issue, one way or the other.”

Does he support Joe Miller? “Of course.”

Sen. Kit Bond

He tells us, opaquely, of Murkowski retaining her ranking status, “Well, that was a decision.” He adds that it says “nothing” about the conference’s support for Joe Miller.  

Sen. Richard Burr

He says he’s “very supportive” of the conference’s decision to keep the status quo and not vote on the committee position (but, remember, he’s in an awkward position as her potential successor on the committee). He adds, “Make no mistake; I was one of the first ones to send [Joe Miller ] a check, and we’ll make sure that he gets across that goal line.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch

He’s up for reelection in 2012 in conservative Utah, which just dumped another long-time Republican incumbent. His office e-mailed a statement that doesn’t say directly whether he supports her retaining her ranking position, even though that’s what we asked: “Lisa is a friend and she’s done a good job. But I don’t think anybody believes Lisa can win. The people of Alaska have spoken. I’m behind Joe Miller, the next senator from Alaska, and will do what I can to help him.”

Sen. Jim Inhofe

He says he voted against Murkowski. “I voted the other way,” he says of the decision to retain her. “I thought it was not the kind of thing that should happen. I don’t care if I’m a Republican or a Democrat. I’ve lost races. It’s no fun,” he adds. “But when you do, if you have any loyalty to the philosophy represented by your party, in this case I think that she would . . . at least I thought she would. It’s not a good idea. So, anyway, I voted the other way.”

Se. Johnny Isakson

He says only, “I think Ronald Reagan’s eleventh commandment is appropriate.”

Sen. Dick Lugar

He’s up for reelection in 2012 in Indiana, and helpfully explains, “No comment.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions

“Senator Sessions has a great respect for the opinion of primary voters and supports the Republican nominee Joe Miller,” writes Press Secretary Sarah Haley. “Regarding Senator Murkowski’s position on retaining the Ranking Member of the Energy Committee, I will refer you to the Politico article that Senator Sessions commented in.”

Here is the relevant bit from that article:

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, an energy committee member, said he’d vote to remove Murkowski.

“I think Richard Burr will do a very fine job, and that’s what should happen,” Sessions said.

Sessions said he thinks Murkowski should lose her seniority because of the outcome of Alaska’s GOP primary. “I think it’d be more respectful of the election to have a change than not,” he said.

Sen. Richard Shelby

He says “we never had a vote on [her committee position],” so it is “probably moot.” He continues, “I hope Joe Miller wins — he’s the Republican nominee.” Miller is “very impressive,” and Murkowski “ought to support the ticket.”

Sen. Olympia Snowe

In a quick aside outside the Capitol, she tells us, “I don’t want to get into that.”

Sen. John Thune

Of course, he’s a potential presidential candidate in 2012. Of the committee assignment, he says, “Well, the conference has settled that issue.” He continues, “I’m not sure I want to get into that, since the conference has already weighed in.”

Sen. Roger Wicker

He’s up in 2012 in very, very red Mississippi. He says: “I don’t view it as as big of an issue as some people do. We made clear that we would support Mr. Miller once he won the nomination.”

He continues, “I assume [the conference’s decision] was viewed as not pouring salt in the wound of someone who has served here for six or eight years.”

Then, he scolds anyone interested in the matter: “I’m comfortable with it, because I don’t view it as a significant issue. . . . Frankly, the pundits would be better served to focus on issues of importance to the American people.”

Sen. Bob Corker

“I’ve already weighed in on that privately,” Corker tells us. “I don’t know why I should weigh in publicly. I have already weighed in with her and with the leadership.”

He adds: “I have had a position and I voiced that opinion, OK. But no action ended up being taken, so why would I want to create an issue? I have weighed in already . . .  Let me put it this way: I am co-chairing (Joe Miller’s fundraiser) tomorrow and I’m glad to be there.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham

Graham tells us that he is “OK” with Murkowski keeping her ranking status. “I want to look forward, not backward,” he says. “She got elected to serve out six years . . . If we start doing stuff like this (removing her position as ranking member) we are going to get off track. It’s about the future and not the past and the future is Mr. Miller. I expect him to come here and be a valuable team player the moment he gets here . . .  We want to stay focused on them, not us.”



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