Alaska senators sometimes split on recent votes

The US Senate took some big votes last week, and Alaska’s senators sometimes split over them.

Alaska Public Media Washington D.C. correspondent Liz Ruskin talked to Alaska News Nightly host Casey Grove.

Grove: Liz first of all how unusual is it that Alaska’s two Republican senators split their votes?

Ruskin: It’s not crazy unusual for the vast majority of votes. They do vote the same but Sen. Murkowski, Lisa Murkowski, votes against her party more than the average Republican, and Senator Dan Sullivan, who votes more closely to that party line. So you do see disagreements and last week we saw three of them.

Grove: Three of them? I understand one was on the farm bill?

Ruskin: Right the [Agriculture] Bill. Sullivan voted for it, Murkowski against.

Grove: It doesn’t seem like an Alaska senator would have a big stake in the farm bill.

Ruskin: Yes, but it also covers the Forest Service, and Murkowski was disappointed the bill didn’t include an exemption to the roadless rule for Alaska. So she voted no.

Grove: OK, well, how about the resolution that called for the U.S. to stop helping the Saudis in Yemen did the Alaska Senators vote in unison there?

Ruskin: They did, they both voted against withdrawing U.S. support for the Saudi war in Yemen. But on the way to that vote, Casey, the two senators voted opposite each other in the run-up votes. Murkowski was one of the 60 senators who voted to advance the measure, getting it over that first procedural hurdle, and Murkowski voted to specify that this would end U.S. refueling of Saudi aircraft. Sullivan voted the opposite.

Grove: So she voted to bring the resolution of the floor and she voted to make it stronger. But then, in the end, she and Sullivan voted against?

Ruskin: Yes, Sullivan said a U.S. withdrawal wouldn’t end the war or the humanitarian crisis, and he said stepping away from the Saudis would only make Iran stronger in the region. Here’s what he said on the senate floor last week:

Sullivan (file tape): Nobody’s talking about the Real Enemy of the United States.  It’s the Iranians, who are watching this debate and smiling because no one’s talking about them.

Grove: And what about Murkowski? Why did she end up voting against it?

Ruskin: She says the Saudis should be on notice that they can’t kill journalist. But she says a diplomatic solution is the way to go.

Grove: And Liz if this wasn’t enough already this week, we learned that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is out.

Ruskin: Right, the president announced [Zinke] will leave at the end of the year.

Grove: So what does that mean for Alaska?

Ruskin: Well Secretary Zinke did a lot to advance Arctic oil development and the King Cove Road, but his second-in-command, David Bernhardt, will likely be the acting secretary at least for some period. He’s the driving force behind a lot of President Trump’s energy policy and Bernhardt has even more detailed knowledge about the needs and wants of Alaska’s oil industry. He’s a former industry lobbyist, and also we’ve got former [Alaska] Natural Resources Commissioner Joe Balash at Interior in an important role, so I don’t see a lot changing there, not soon anyway.

Grove: Well, thanks for unpacking all of that for us, Liz. I appreciate it and thanks for being here.

Ruskin: Sure thing, Casey. Talk to you later.

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Casey Grove is the host of Alaska News Nightly and a general assignment reporter at Alaska Public Media with an emphasis on crime and courts. Reach him at

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