Murkowski’s Trump ‘struggle’: Her goals for Alaska vs. her values

Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Republican colleagues at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol in July. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she didn’t set out to make a scene last Thursday, but she ran into a group of reporters in the Capitol and one of them asked her about what former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said.

Mattis had just published an op-ed that was highly critical of the president.

READ: The full statement of Jim Mattis

“I think probably a good politician would have deflected the question,” Murkowski said Wednesday. “But I felt it was necessary to be direct. The country is is is hurting. And I felt that if I was going to say that words matter, I needed to make sure that mine were clear, too.”

RELATED: Trump vows to campaign for any Murkowski challenger with ‘a pulse’ after she echoes general’s denouncement

At the time, Murkowski told reporters: “I thought General Mattis’s words were true and honest and necessary and overdue.”

For Trump supporters, Murkowski betrayed the cause. And her critics on the left say she was anything but clear. On Facebook and other social media, they pointed out that Mattis described Trump as a threat to the Constitution. If she agreed with that, the critics asked, how could she still be struggling?

Murkowski is a moderate in a polarized world. She is always trying to bridge gaps. Since the start of his presidency, and even before, Trump has widened the gaps.

“I believe that he feels that it is more effective to divide than to attempt to unite. And I don’t think that that’s healthy for our country,” she said.

But, she said, Trump shares her agenda on energy and resource development questions in Alaska.

“I’ve got to look at policies, again, that have been good for for our state,” she said. “And then balance that against the the leadership and the leadership style of this president.”

Trump, as he reminded Murkowski by tweet last week, signed a bill opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. His Interior Department has tried build a road for King Cove. He just signed a memo to get new icebreakers on the water by 2029. Goals that she and the rest of the congressional delegation have pursued for decades have advanced at break-neck speed.

“But I do struggle, because I am a person for whom values really matter,” Murkowski said.

RELATED: Trump advances icebreaker plan

She said she’s not concerned about Trump’s threat to campaign against her when she’s up for re-election in 2022. 

Sen. Dan Sullivan will be on the ballot this year. He rarely breaks with Trump. Sullivan is a Marine and was a big fan of Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general. But after Mattis issued his critique, Sullivan said the “blame game” isn’t helpful.

Murkowski said she knows her decision to criticize the president is hard on Sullivan and other Republican senators.

“I think I’ve probably made life harder for everybody for whom they get asked the question: ‘Well, what do you think about Lisa’s comments?’” Murkowski said. “It then puts them in the position – Do they defend me? Do they defend the president?”

Murkowski said they shouldn’t have to answer for her words, but she felt compelled to speak her mind.