Murkowski looks at Trump, sees resource development

Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks to a Joint Session of the Alaska Legislature, Feb. 22, 2017. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Sen. Lisa Murkowski said it’s too early to judge the Trump presidency. She’s been skeptical of some of his actions, but in her annual address to the Alaska Legislature this morning, Murkowski presented the Trump administration as an opportunity for resource development.

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“So, here’s the plan in this new administration, this new Congress: We’re going to start here in Alaska by working to restore throughput in our trans-Alaska pipeline,” she said, to applause. “It is possible and it will be done.”

During the campaign, Murkowski called for Trump to leave the ticket. She is only of only four Republican U.S. senators to vote against any of his nominees so far. But Democrats who hope Murkowski will help them block the Trump agenda might be disappointed in her speech.

“I am looking at the Trump administration and the team he is putting together and saying: how can we be working to best advantage Alaskans,” she told reporters afterward.

Murkowski said she’s been encouraged so far by Trump’s resource policies. While environmentalists warn that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt will dismantle the agency, Murkowski said he’ll bring the EPA back to its lawful mission.

With reporters, Murkowski wasn’t entirely uncritical of the Trump administration.

“I do think there have been some instances where, as a team, they kind of stepped in it,” Murkowski said. “And I think we saw that with the initial rollout of the executive order on the travel ban.”

On the other hand, she said the Trump team “flawlessly” handled the announcement of his pick for the Supreme Court.

Invited to provide a general assessment of Trump’s job performance, Murkowski demurred.

“Ask me that question in three months,” Murkowski said.

On health care, the senator said Congress should take time to craft a good replacement for the Affordable Care Act. She said the new program should retain features like coverage for pre-existing conditions and mental health parity. And Murkowski told legislators she supports continuing the Medicaid expansion, the cost of which is now largely borne by the federal government

“So as long as this Legislature wants to keep the (Medicaid) expansion, Alaska should have that option. So I will not vote to repeal it,” she said.

If that disappointed conservative lawmakers, so did her next statement, about Planned Parenthood. Many of her Republican colleagues want to bar Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid money for any medical services, because its clinics provide abortion. Murkowski said the Planned Parenthood controversy doesn’t belong in the debate over the health care replacement plan.

“Taxpayer dollars should not be used to pay for abortions,” Murkowski said, echoing a position that has been federal law for decades. ” But I will not vote to deny Alaskans access to the health services that Planned Parenthood provides.”

That drew applause in the joint session of the Alaska Legislature, but it was not universal.

State Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, said he gives Murkowski high marks for “standing up for Alaska.”

“On the Planned Parenthood issue, her and I just totally disagree,” Coghill said. “But it’s always good to see her address the work so thoughtfully.”

Alaska’s other U.S. senator, Dan Sullivan, is due to address the Legislature on Friday.

Reporter Andrew Kitchenman contributed to this story from Juneau.

CORRECTION: Senator Dan Sullivan is scheduled to speak on Friday, not Thursday.