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Politics & Government

Murkowski 'Disturbed' By McConnell Coordinating With White House

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

There has been a small crack in an otherwise unified stance that Republicans have been taking about President Trump's impeachment trial. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska spoke to local TV station KTUU. She said when she heard that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell planned to coordinate with the White House, she was, quote, "disturbed." Murkowski spoke about a senator's duty to be an impartial juror.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LISA MURKOWSKI: To me, it means that we have to take that step back from being hand in glove with the defense.

GREENE: Liz Ruskin of Alaska Public Media has covered Senator Murkowski for years and joins us from Anchorage this morning. Liz, thanks for being here.

LIZ RUSKIN, BYLINE: Oh, hi. Good morning.

GREENE: So does this sound like the Murkowski you know?

RUSKIN: Yeah, absolutely. It does. And I think that it's really just in her nature to be a centrist, to seek middle ground like this. And also, you'll note that she's criticizing Leader McConnell on process, and that is very important to her, sticking to procedure and tradition. That's how she rolls.

GREENE: Well, I mean, anyone hearing this is probably going to jump to the question of how she might vote in terms of whether or not to remove President Trump. Are you getting any indication of that from this?

RUSKIN: No, and I would think it's a mistake to read too much into this criticism. She's also been critical of how Speaker Pelosi is handling impeachment. And she's criticized House Democrats on their process nearly to the point of saying that they've got a weak case. If we can play some tape here, I've got something that Senator Murkowski told me in mid-December, right after saying House leaders should have gone to court if they wanted to hear from witnesses who refused to appear.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MURKOWSKI: As a consequence, I think you have a record that the House will base its articles on that is perhaps not as full a record as it needs to be.

RUSKIN: So that was just before the articles of impeachment came out, but she seems to undercut both of them with that statement.

GREENE: Yeah, although she's so careful with her language, it sounds like. And I wonder...

RUSKIN: Very much. Always.

GREENE: Yeah, that's very much her, too. So can you take me back to other times that she's parted ways with fellow Republicans and sort of how you saw those things play out?

RUSKIN: Well, sure. There was the famous vote in 2017 on health care, when she was one of three Republicans who killed a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And then the confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh. She opposed his confirmation on quite narrow grounds.

She said his behavior at his confirmation hearing - that emotion and bitterness he showed - she said that was not in keeping with the Code of Judicial Conduct. But she also called him a good man, kind of splitting the baby there. It's also worth pointing out, I think, that, other than Kavanaugh, I do not think she's voted against any of President Trump's judges.

GREENE: Give me the political context for her at this moment. I mean, how secure is her Senate seat in Alaska?

RUSKIN: Well, she's not up again until 2022. But it seems like a large swath of the middle of Alaskans really admires her. And you'll recall back in 2010, she lost in the Republican primary to a Tea Party favorite and then won in a write-in. That was with the help of a lot of Democrats and Alaska Native groups.

So her base - she draws a lot of support from Democrats and moderate Republicans, and she's proved that she really doesn't need her party to win. And then she regularly aggravates both the left and the right alternately, depending on her votes.

GREENE: Do you think she could have influence over this trial in the Senate?

RUSKIN: I think so, but I think we would see that more on votes on the rules or on whether to call witnesses.

GREENE: All right. Liz Ruskin of Alaska Public Media joining us from Anchorage to talk about Senator Murkowski. Thanks so much, really appreciate it.

RUSKIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.