JUNEAU — U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski cautioned against reading too much into her support for major pieces of the Democrats’ agenda during the lame duck session of Congress.
Murkowski, branded a Republican in name only by tea party activists during her hotly contested and still unsettled Senate race in Alaska, said supporting initiatives backed by President Barack Obama doesn’t make her a “reliable vote” for him.
“For those that are looking to say, ‘I told you so,’ you know, there’s always a question of, what is the next vote and where are Alaskans on that next vote,” she told reporters from Washington, D.C.
Murkowski mounted a write-in campaign after losing her primary to Joe Miller, a tea party favorite backed by Sarah Palin. Unofficial results show Murkowski ahead by thousands of votes. But Miller’s legal challenges to how the state conducted the vote count have stalled certification of the race.
Murkowski said her votes are guided by Alaskans’ stance on issues. High-profile issues raised during the lame duck session have included repeal of the law barring gay troops from serving openly; an Obama-backed compromise tax cut bill; and ratification of an arms treaty with Russia. She’s among a relative handful of Republicans that have supported all these.
She also supported the so-called DREAM Act, which would have given provisional legal status to illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.
Murkowski said it was time the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was repealed and Alaskans expressed “a great deal of support” for doing away with it. She cited a strong, growing Hispanic population in the state in her support of the failed DREAM Act. And she said her vote for the arms treaty, known as New START, was secured because of support of military leaders and assurance that ratification would not affect the United States’ national defense system. Alaska’s junior senator, Democrat Mark Begich, also supports ratification.
On Tuesday, Murkowski joined about 10 Republicans in ending debate on the treaty, setting the stage for a final vote as early as Wednesday. She said she believes it will pass.
During her career, Murkowski earned a reputation as a centrist, but she veered harder to the right after Obama took office and her star within the GOP rose. She voted against key Democratic initiatives, like the health care overhaul. Still, during this past election, many conservatives viewed her as too liberal — on social issues, like abortion, notably — and some nonpartisans saw her as beholden to her party.
She gave up her leadership post within the GOP conference after losing her primary to Miller, and in running as a write-in candidate, vowed to be a voice for all Alaskans.
Since returning to Washington, she said she hasn’t felt pressure from Republican colleagues to vote a certain way. One of her main goals is to retain her position as ranking member on the energy committee, a panel of particular importance to resource-rich Alaska.
On Monday, Miller’s Facebook page included a link to an article that said the president had found an ally in Murkowski during the postelection session. At least one commenter called on Miller to stop campaigning. Another, with the tea party-style Conservative Patriots Group, said the story confirmed what “we anticipated.”
“One of the most telling things about the votes she’s taken is that she joined Senator Mark Begich in making them,” Miller spokesman Randy DeSoto said in an e-mail.
Murkowski said she’s optimistic about the potential for substantive policy debate during the new Congress — on issues such as spending — noting the narrower edge that Democrats will hold as the majority party.