Alaska’s US senators veer apart on shutdown votes

Protestors calling for an end to the partial government shutdown chanted outside the Juneau offices of Alaska’s U.S. senators. (Photo: Zoe Grueskin – KTOO)

In the U.S. Senate Thursday, two bills that would have ended the partial government shutdown failed to get enough votes to advance. Alaska’s senators took different tacks.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski struck a moderate position. She said she disliked aspects of each bill, but she voted for both of them.

“I’m trying to figure out a way to get the government open,” she said.

The first vote was on a Republican bill that included money for the border wall President Trump has been promising. Fifty senators voted for it, including one Democrat.

The next vote was for a Democratic proposal to fund the closed departments for two weeks, to allow time to negotiate a border security proposal. Murkowski was one of six Republicans who crossed the aisle to vote for it. It got 52 votes.

Both measures failed to get the 60 votes needed to advance.

“I understand the president’s priorities,” Murkowski said, speaking of border security. “But don’t confuse it with the priority that we have to ensure that those men and women who are protecting us, who are working for us, have a right to get paid.”

Murkowski said she’s hearing from proud Coast Guard spouses who are angry to find themselves having to visit food banks because they don’t know when they’ll get paid again.

“What kind of a message is that? That you don’t matter? That we expect you to work but we’re not going to pay you?” Murkowski asked. “I’m sorry. I’m going off on a little bit of a rant.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan stood with the president, and the Senate’s Republican leadership. He voted for the Republican bill and against the Democratic measure. He said, in a written statement, the president would’ve vetoed the Democratic bill, so that would’ve only continued the gridlock.

Right after the votes, Murkowski led a bipartisan call from the Senate floor for a temporary measure to re-open government.

At the same time, a small knot of protesters gathered outside the senators’ offices in Juneau.

“End the shutdown!” they chanted.

They carried protest signs and also a giant chicken balloon with a swoop of orange hair to lampoon the president.