On a procedural vote to decide whether to allow a debate about the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski today was a “no” vote, along with Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.
Their votes were key, and kept the Senate in suspense for hours as members waited for all votes to be cast, including a vote from Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who took a break from cancer treatment to return to the Capitol. Vice President Mike Pence cast the final vote to break the 50-50 tie and allow discussion of the legislation to proceed.
The two Republican women from Alaska and Maine sided with Senate Democrats.
Obamacare passed in 2010 without a single Republican vote, including Murkowski’s. Its passage and subsequent failure led to a Republican sweep to victory in both houses of Congress, the presidency, and a majority of state legislatures and governorships.
Murkowski’s vote today, however, was a vote to retain Obamacare. But she ended up in the losing category by yet again going against President Donald Trump as she has done repeatedly since before he took office.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, in contrast, voted to proceed with debate on the bill. He told Fox News:
“This to get on the bill. This is to make sure the world’s greatest deliberative body starts debating a critical issue.” – Sen. Dan Sullivan, Alaska
Obamacare is a failure, Sullivan said, and Alaska in particular has been adversely impacted by it, with premiums rising more than 200 percent. Republicans who ran on repealing Obamacare need to keep their word, he said.
A statement from Murkowski is expected soon, according to her Press Secretary Karina Peterson.
THE CHAIRMAN’S LETTER
Tuckerman Babcock, chairman of the Alaska Republican Party, had sent a letter to Alaska’s senators over the weekend, making it clear that repeal of Obamacare is a nonnegotiable plank in the Alaska Republican Party’s platform.
Dear Senators Murkowski and Sullivan,
Thank you for your service to our state and to our nation. As spokesman for the Alaska Republican Party, I thank you both for your support of the President’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the United States Supreme Court. That was a tremendous accomplishment and a promise kept.
The 2016 Alaska Republican Party Platform is the general statement of where Alaskan Republicans stand on issues, and where we hope our team will lead us whether as President, US Senator or any other elected position.
As Chairman, I recognize that it is the job of the Alaska Republican Party to support the nominees chosen by our Republican primary voters and to elect our team members to office. I recognize that it is the job of those we elect to administrate and legislate. I respect those spheres of responsibility and fully appreciate that the complexity of crafting and amending legislation is your responsibility and not that of the Party.
However, there are times when a specific issue is so central to our message, to our platform and to our promises to voters that I am persuaded a public statement from the Alaska Republican Party is warranted.
Since the elections of 2010, a central tenet of all national and state messaging, and our united promise as Republicans, has been that if Americans will trust our party with the Presidency, Senate and House, we will repeal Obamacare.
Our 2016 Platform is direct and unusually specific:
“We emphatically support the repeal of the Affordable Care and Patient Act 0f 2010, better known as Obamacare. We support health care reforms to address spiraling costs, quality, availability and the number of uninsured people. Our solutions are consumer choice, personal responsibility, health savings accounts, reduction of unnecessary regulations and limits on defensive medicine and liability costs through tort reforms.”
The ARP defers to your judgment on how best to replace Obamacare … What is non-negotiable is the promise we Republicans have made to Alaskans and to all Americans: Obamacare must be repealed.
The integrity of our mutual promise, our united message and our platform could not be more direct or more clear.
Today, Babcock said, “I am dismayed by the ‘no’ vote by Alaska’s senior senator. Fellow Republicans, please join me in continuing to urge our senior senator to join the work to proactively repeal Obamacare. We hope that as debate continues our senator will become convinced to join her colleagues to move forward to repeal Obamacare.”
GRAVE CONSEQUENCES FOR ALASKA: ANWR?
President Donald Trump had urged Republicans to ‘‘step up to the plate’’ and vote on their bill that would undo much of the damage of Obamacare, and a roll-call vote started at about 2:30 pm Tuesday.
Murkowski’s vote may have pleased the hundreds of noisy protesters that converged on the Capitol, but also may put her in peril with Senate leadership and with the president himself, who might turn his back on efforts to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration. Murkowski is chair of the Senate Energy Committee, but even her chairmanship could be at risk.
Trump knows how to reward and punish. Last week the president signaled to Nevada’s Sen. Dean Heller that he would lose his reelection campaign if he didn’t back the repeal legislation. Today, Heller voted “yes” on the motion to proceed.
Trump made an appearance in West Virginia yesterday, and today, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, who had said she’d be a no vote, also voted in favor of the motion to proceed. Trump had won handily in West Virginia in 2016.
In Alaska, Trump’s job approval rating is 51 percent, according to a recent Gallup poll. Murkowski’s Alaska approval rating, according to Morning Consult in April, was 53 percent. The two clearly appeal to different constituencies, but Murkowski will need Trump’s support to open up more federal land for oil production in Alaska.
MCCAIN CASTS THE KEY VOTE, HEROICALLY
Without the support of Murkowski, the Republicans were just short of the 50 votes needed. Arizona Sen. John McCain made a dramatic return to Washington, D.C. for this historic vote, even though he, too, is a frequent critic of the president. The 80-year-old Vietnam veteran and former prisoner of war had been in Arizona beginning treatment for brain cancer. He voted “yes.”
Sen. President Mitch McConnell had said earlier that Republicans had‘‘made commitments to our constituents to provide relief from this failed left-wing experiment. And now we have a real opportunity to keep those commitments. I hope everyone will seize the moment.’’
McCain did seize the moment and the mic, giving an impassioned speech about how the Senate needs to get back to “regular order” and that everyone in the Senate knows Obamacare is a failure that needs to be replaced.