Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has been one of the more consistent skeptics of her party's health care crusade, and Donald Trump has made no secret of his frustrations with her principles. The question, however, is just how far the president is prepared to go in expressing his dissatisfaction.
The Alaska Dispatch News, the state's largest newspaper, published a striking report overnight on the Trump administration's Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, reportedly calling both of Alaska's Republican senators yesterday, alerting them to the fact that Murkowski's position on health care "had put Alaska's future with the administration in jeopardy."
Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan said the call from Zinke heralded a "troubling message."
"I'm not going to go into the details, but I fear that the strong economic growth, pro-energy, pro-mining, pro-jobs and personnel from Alaska who are part of those policies are going to stop," Sullivan said.
"I tried to push back on behalf of all Alaskans.... We're facing some difficult times and there's a lot of enthusiasm for the policies that Secretary Zinke and the president have been talking about with regard to our economy. But the message was pretty clear," Sullivan said. The Interior secretary also contacted Murkowski, he said.
Note, we're not talking about an anonymous source raising serious allegations. This is a sitting Republican senator, describing a conversation he had yesterday with a Republican cabinet secretary in a Republican administration. And according to Dan Sullivan's account, Trump's Interior secretary was "pretty clear" that the White House is prepared to play a dangerous game of hardball with Alaska's future.
It's a nice state you have there; it'd be a shame if something bad happened to it.
In effect, the Alaska Dispatch News has described a scenario in which Trump wants Murkowski to punish Alaskans (by voting for a radical health care plan) or he'll punish Alaskans (by using the Department of the Interior).
Let's note for context that Alaska, which has backed the Republican ticket in every election for more than four decades, easily elected Trump last year. The president, in other words, is threatening to penalize some of his own supporters.
I realize this isn't Trump's style, but as we discussed yesterday, the president could take this opportunity to reach out to Murkowski, negotiate with her on the substance of health care, and perhaps even try to defend his health care ideas on the merits.
But since he doesn't know how to do this, Trump's apparently settled on trying to pass a regressive health care bill through extortion. Unable to lead, the president finds it easier to be a bully.