WASHINGTON - In an abrupt reversal, Senate Republicans decided Wednesday to keep Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski in her post as top minority member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Republican officials had said that Murkowski was likely to be removed from the energy committee as punishment for mounting a write-in bid to try to hold onto her seat, following her defeat in a GOP primary last month.
Instead, lawmakers at a closed-door meeting Wednesday voted to keep Murkowski in her energy role. Senators did replace her as vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, installing Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso. Murkowski resigned from the party post after losing the GOP primary to tea party-supported Joe Miller.
Murkowski was in Alaska Wednesday, but her office issued a statement saying she looks forward to continuing to serve as ranking Republican on the energy panel.
Republican senators declined to explain their vote, but Murkowski is well-liked by most members of the GOP caucus. With the legislative session nearly over, there was little reason to unseat her now, said a Senate Republican staffer who asked not to be identified, because his boss did not want him to discuss internal party politics.
Whatever the reason, the action helps Murkowski in her write-in bid, although she remains a long-shot.
Barrasso, a physician who strongly opposes the recent health care overhaul, said in a statement that he was grateful to have earned the support of his colleagues.
"We have a lot to accomplish for the American people. We must end wasteful Washington spending, stop flawed economic policies, make it easier for the private sector to create jobs and secure a successful future for our country," he said.
The GOP team is ready, Barrasso added. "The American people are clearly ready."