Murkowski delivered last week one of the highest-profile rebukes to Trump to date from a sitting Republican senator. She's not up for reelection until 2022, however, making it a bit easier to criticize a president who may no longer be in the White House.
But she has found herself at odds with Trump in the past for deviating from the Republican Party line — even as she works closely with the president’s public land managers to open vast swaths of Alaska for development. And a decade ago, Murkowski was able to hang on to her seat even after losing a Republican primary.
Now Murkowski is drawing Trump’s ire after saying she is “struggling” to find the right words to express her feelings about his presidency.
The tit-for-tat started when the senator said she agreed with a statement from Jim Mattis, the president’s former defense secretary, accusing Trump of trying to deliberately divide Americans.
“When I saw General Mattis’s comments yesterday, I felt like perhaps we’re getting to the point where we can be more honest with the concerns that we might hold internally and have the courage of our own convictions to speak up,” Murkowski said told reporters, including my colleagues Paul Kane and John Wagner, Thursday at the Capitol.
“I thought General Mattis’s words were true and honest and necessary and overdue,” she added.
Trump quickly lashed out on Twitter by promising to support Murkowski’s eventual challenger — anyone “with a pulse” — when she is is on the ballot in 2022.
Murkowski spokeswoman Hannah Ray said the senator has not responded to Trump’s tweets.
But Murkowski has long delivered for Alaska’s oil drillers and loggers, who may be more important to her reelection prospects.
Murkowski chairs both the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Appropriations subcommittee on the Interior Department, environment, and related agencies, which doles out funding for the department.
Those two powerful committees give Murkowski significant power over how various federal agencies manage land in Alaska, where the U.S. government owns three of every five acres.
“She’s in a position to make sure that good things happen for Alaska,” said Gerald McBeath, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.
Murkowski was instrumental in including a provision in a 2017 tax bill to open 1.5 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and gas drilling. It was an achievement long sought by elected officials in Alaska, including by her father, former senator and governor Frank Murkowski (R).
This isn’t the first time Murkowski has crossed Trump.
While she voted to acquit the president in his impeachment trial earlier this year, Murkowski was the lone Republican to oppose the nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court after Christine Blasey Ford accused the judge of sexual assault when the two were both teenagers.
More consequentially, Murkowski was one of three GOP senators in 2017 to vote against her party’s seven-year effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
At the time, Trump’s Interior Department secretary, Ryan Zinke, implied in calls to her and the state’s other Senate Republican, Dan Sullivan, that Alaska’s interests were at risk because of her vote.
But little if anything came of the threat. Over the next three years, the Interior Department has still pursued many of Murkowski’s energy and environmental priorities, including aggressively leasing off parcels for oil and gas drilling throughout the state.
Murkowski is a remarkably resilient politician.
In 2010, she lost a Republican primary to tea party challenger Joe Miller, only to win the general election in a write-in campaign.
She has built a broad coalition different from that of many other Republicans, according to McBeath, by drawing the support of Native Alaskans and moderate women.
But Trump, in a 2018 interview with my colleague Philip Rucker, insisted he is even more popular in Alaska.
“I won Alaska by many points — I don’t know what, but a lot. Sixteen. A lot,” Trump said. (Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 14 points there in 2016.)
Both Murkowski and Trump take credit for opening ANWR to energy development. Trump added that Murkowski “will never recover” from her Kavanaugh vote.
But some of Murkowski’s energy priorities have recently hit snags.
But major oil companies, too, are not expressing a lot of interest in tapping oil there given the fierce opposition among Democratic lawmakers to developing the refuge.
And a comprehensive energy bill introduced this year by Murkowski and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) stalled in the Senate just before the coronavirus pandemic fully gripped the country in March.
Murkowski has only seven more months to get the bill across the finish line. At the end of the current Congress, Murkowski will be term-limited out of her position atop Energy and Natural Resources.
The administration is dismantling several federal regulations, citing an “economic emergency.” Some of those rules are meant to protect the environment.
“President Trump formalized this strategy two weeks ago when he signed an executive order instructing agencies across the government to rescind, modify or simply stop enforcing regulations if they burden the economy,” Steven Mufson, Juliet Eilperin, Jeff Stein and Renae Merle report. “On Thursday, he signed another order to allow agencies to waive 50-year-old environmental laws to speed federal approvals of pipelines, highways and other projects.”
The orders have reupped a debate over whether regulations harm the economy.
They add: “One sign of industry’s appetite for regulatory relief can be seen on the state level in Minnesota, where pollution regulators have received more than 500 requests for ‘regulatory flexibility’ because of the coronavirus and been granted more than 93 percent of them.”
Trump signed a proclamation to lift commercial fishing limits at a marine sanctuary off New England.
“Fishing can resume at the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument off the coast of New England, Trump said. The Obama administration closed off nearly 5,000 square miles of ocean in September 2016 to save whales and allow marine life to recover from overfishing,” Eilperin and Darryl Fears report. “The controversial decision was praised by conservationists and challenged by commercial fishermen from the start.”
“We’re opening it up today,” Trump declared at a roundtable on Friday. “We’re undoing his executive order. What was his reason? He didn’t have a reason, in my opinion."
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said U.S. Park Police faced a “state of siege” from protesters.
In a letter to lawmakers, Bernhardt said the officers “were under a state of siege and routinely subject to attack by violent crowds" starting on May 30. The letter adds: “The incidents are numerous and include USPP officers having their police cars vandalized; being subject to bombardment by lighted flares; Molotov cocktails, rocks, bricks, bottles and other projectiles; and physical assault so violent that to date over 50 area law enforcement officers have been injured to some degree.”
His letter follows a request from Democratic lawmakers or an explanation of why chemical agents were used against demonstrators to clear Lafayette Square before Trump visited a nearby church.
After claiming that tear gas was never used on protesters outside the White House, a spokesman for the USPP acknowledged the chemical agents used last week have similar painful effects to tear gas, Carol D. Leonnig reports.
Global warming watch
There are new hurdles for hurricane preparedness amid the pandemic.
Storms present a dual risk this season, as those in vulnerable areas have to evacuate their homes, fleeing a safe environment to shelter with other evacuees. That means they could shelter with potential coronavirus carriers, Frances Stead Sellers and Andrew Freedman write.
“Experts say it is a powder keg of risk and fear that could ultimately cost lives,” they report. “…On Friday, officials in Grand Isle, La., issued a mandatory evacuation order beginning Saturday. Police Chief Laine Landry said a few people had already left to stay with family and friends and that he expected more to go Saturday. But he said that about 75 percent of the island’s 1,300 local residents likely would choose to ride out the storm in their houses, the majority of which stand 18 to 20 feet above ground.”
It's a particular problem as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration anticipates an unusually active hurricane season this year.
“A real concern is that people may not evacuate,” said W. Craig Fugate, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “We need to be clear about this: If you live in an evacuation zone and people say you need to evacuate, you move to higher ground.”
Tropical Storm Cristobal made landfall in Louisiana on Sunday evening.
“Though the strong storm that has moved across the Gulf of Mexico did not strengthen into a hurricane, New Orleans residents took the threat seriously, stacking sandbags in front of store entrances and parking their cars in elevated areas to avoid potential floodwaters,” Ashley Cusick, Richard A. Webster and Jason Samenow report.
Along the Gulf Coast, shoreline flooding and rain-induced inland flooding were set to be the most serious risks.
“Cristobal is predicted to be drawn north through Arkansas on Monday, then into Missouri, Illinois and the Great Lakes on Tuesday, intensifying as it merges with another storm system,” they write. “The National Weather Service forecast office in La Crosse, Wis., tweeted that Cristobal’s remnants could go farther west across Wisconsin than any other post-tropical system on record.”
Last month was the planet’s warmest May on record.
That’s according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service, which said severe warmth in Siberia fueled record-high global average surface temperatures.
“Globally, May was 1.13 degrees (0.63 degrees Celsius) above average compared with average May temperatures from 1981-2010, beating the previous record set in 2016,” Andrew Freedman reports. “The past 12-month period (June 2019 through May 2020) was close to 1.3 degrees (0.7 Celsius) above average, matching the warmest 12-month period that was set during October 2015 through September 2016.”
Scientists also found January through May was the second-warmest period on record since at least 1979.
Shale companies are bringing oil wells back online.
Oil producers in the United States are turning oil taps back as economies reopen and oil prices rebound, the Wall Street Journal reports.
“The increased volumes remain far below peak levels before the pandemic, when the U.S. was pumping more than 13 million barrels a day of crude, the most in the world. But they come at a time when many of the world’s other top producers are still voluntarily curtailing their output to help rebalance global markets,” per the report.
OPEC and its allies agreed to extend production cuts.
The oil-producing cartel agreed to continue historic curbs on production through July in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Beginning on May 1, the alliance cut production by 9.7 million barrels per day. The cuts were initially supposed to begin declining on July 1,” CNBC reports. “Now, July’s production cut will be 9.6 million bpd after Mexico, which accounts for 100,000 bpd, said it remained committed to the group’s prior agreement. The cuts will be reviewed on a monthly basis, with the next meeting slated for June 18. “