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Alaska's Murkowski 'sincerely' questions commitment to GOP

"If the Republican Party has become nothing more than the party of Trump, I sincerely question whether this is the party for me," Lisa Murkowski said.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, asks questions during a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill on June 30, 2020.Kevin Dietsch / AFP - Getty Images

Some congressional Republicans have been willing to criticize Donald Trump over his role in inciting the attack on the U.S. Capitol, but none have gone as far as Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). As the Anchorage Daily News reported today:

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Friday that Donald Trump should resign the presidency immediately and that if the Republican Party cannot separate itself from Trump, she isn't certain she has a future with the party. "I want him to resign. I want him out. He has caused enough damage," Murkowski said during a 17-minute interview from her small Capitol office, steps away from the Senate chambers that were invaded by pro-Trump rioters on Wednesday.

The senator went on to say, "I think he should leave. He said he's not going to show up. He's not going to appear at the inauguration. He hasn't been focused on what is going on with COVID. He's either been golfing or he's been inside the Oval Office fuming and throwing every single person who has been loyal and faithful to him under the bus, starting with the vice president. He doesn't want to stay there. He only wants to stay there for the title. He only wants to stay there for his ego. He needs to get out."

As surprising as these comments were, even more striking was Murkowski voicing skepticism about her future with the Republican Party.

Asked whether she intends to remain a Republican, Murkowski said that depends on the party itself. "Well, you know, there's a lot of people who actually thought that I did that in 2010, think that I became an independent. I didn't have any reason to leave my party in 2010. I was a Republican who ran a write-in campaign and I was successful. But I will tell you, if the Republican Party has become nothing more than the party of Trump, I sincerely question whether this is the party for me," she said.

As regular readers know, Murkowski has been one of Congress' most interesting Republican members in recent years. The three-term senator, who won as a write-in candidate in 2010 after losing in a primary, has repeatedly been more willing than most GOP lawmakers to go her own way on key issues.

When her party tried to replace the Affordable Care Act with a far-right alternative, she balked. When her party rallied behind Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination, Murkowski was the only GOP senator to vote "no." When Senate Republicans pushed a resolution last year to denounce the House's impeachment inquiry, the Alaskan didn't sign it. When Mitch McConnell vowed to remain in "total coordination" with Team Trump during the president's impeachment trial, she made her displeasure known.

And while Murkowski didn't vote to convict Trump in the Senate's impeachment trial, she was one of a handful of GOP senators to concede that the president's extortion scheme toward Ukraine was wrong.

Time will tell what, if anything, comes of this, but this is an extraordinary shot across the GOP's bow.

Murkowski is up for re-election in 2022, and Trump has vowed to support her Republican primary rival*, whoever he or she might be. If the Alaskan became an independent and caucused with Democrats -- in two weeks, the new majority party in the chamber -- her power and influence would be considerable, making it easy to return home and tell her constituents, "Re-elect me because I'm now the Senate's most powerful member."

Watch this space.

* Update: As several readers reminded me, Alaska just approved a new elections reform, which creates a ranked-choice/top-four model, changing the primary calculus for the incumbent senator. That said, it remains true that Trump has vowed to support a far-right rival to Murkowski.