Alice Ollstein contributed reporting.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) on Thursday downplayed a phone call she had with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke during which he reportedly threatened her over her vote on Obamacare repeal, saying that she is “strong and independent.”
Murkowski’s office confirmed to TPM that Zinke called the senator to express that the President was not happy with her vote on Obamacare repeal. Murkowski herself told reporters on Capitol Hill that Zinke told her what she “already knew,” which is that President Donald Trump “wasn’t pleased with the vote that I had taken,” according to a clip of her remarks that aired on MSNBC.
Murkowski was one of two Republican senators to vote this week against beginning debate on Obamacare repeal, and Trump singled her out for her opposition in a Wednesday morning tweet. The senator told reporters Thursday that she had also spoken to the President himself about it.
Murkowski’s colleague, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), had earlier told the Alaska Dispatch News that Zinke called him and threatened to retaliate against the state over the senators’ vote on Obamacare repeal. He noted that Zinke also spoke with Murkowski.
Alaska’s senior senator described the call a little bit differently, characterizing it as a difficult conversation as opposed to a threat, according to CNBC.
She also signaled that threats and pressure from the White House would not do much to change her mind.
“I’m a pretty strong and independent individual,” she told reporters, according to CNBC. “I listen to the input from all sides, whether it is the President, whether it is certainly the secretary of Interior where we have much, much in common, and always absolutely, the people of Alaska.”
In a statement obtained by TPM responding to the Dispatch News report, Murkowski said that she will continue to push for the path she thinks is best for repealing Obamacare, which she identified as starting with the committee process.
“I pledged early on that I would work with the President to help advance Alaska’s interests. I will continue to do that—to help build and strengthen our economy, keep the promises made to us as a state, and ensure access to healthcare. While I have disagreed with the Senate process so far, the President and I agree that the status quo with healthcare in our country is not acceptable and that reforms must be made,” she said in the statement. “I continue working to find the best path for what I believe will achieve that–a committee process where we can work issues in the open and ensure Alaskans have the healthcare choices they want, the affordability they need, and the quality of care they deserve.”
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), a member of the Senate GOP leadership team, on Thursday chimed in to say that any threats from the administration likely won’t work.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’ve seldom seen threats be very effective,” he told reporters when asked about Zinke’s reported threat to the Alaska senators.