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Zinke denies threatening senators over Obamacare repeal defection

Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Ashley L. Conti | BDN
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke smiles during a tour of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, June 14, 2017.

TRUJILLO, New Mexico — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Saturday that there was no threat in his calls to Alaska’s two Republican U.S. senators last week after one of them broke ranks with the GOP on a health care vote.

“That’s ridiculous,” Zinke said when asked if the calls were threatening. “Quite frankly, it’s laughable.”

Zinke was in remote northeastern New Mexico on Saturday to see a proposed public access point for the federally designated Sabinoso Wilderness.

His calls to Republican U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan sparked controversy and were portrayed as a warning of repercussions for the nation’s largest state after Murkowski’s vote against proceeding on legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

A report by the Alaska Dispatch News said Zinke had complained that Murkowksi put Alaska’s future with the Trump administration in jeopardy. Vice President Mike Pence broke a 50-50 tie to advance the repeal measure early last week.

“I call Lisa all the time,” Zinke said Saturday near the Sabinoso. “I’m a Republican, Lisa’s a Republican. We talk about teamwork, where we can work together … I talk to Lisa all the time. Lisa will say the same thing.”

The Obamacare repeal effort eventually died, in the early morning hours of Friday, when Arizona’s U.S. Sen. John McCain joined Republicans Murkowski and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine in opposition — enough, with Democratic votes, to doom the measure in the closely divided Senate.

The Alaska Dispatch News reported Thursday that Alaska’s Sullivan said that the call he got from Zinke heralded a “troubling message.”

Sullivan told the newspaper: “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 [supported by the Alaska senators] are going to stop.” Sullivan said “the message was pretty clear.”

Murkowski also confirmed that she received a call from Zinke, but said she did not perceive the call as a threat against her or Alaska. “He was just sharing the concern that the president expressed to him to pass on to me,” Murkowski said Thursday.

On Saturday, Zinke said, “The media maybe was bored for a day, and didn’t have much to … talk about.”

“Lisa and I get along very well,” he said of Murkowski. “My wife and her husband, Verne, are friends. We fish, we ski together. We will continue to fish, we’ll continue to ski together.

“And the president is talking to her, too. You know, I work for the president. The president has an expectation of working together as a team. But, I talk to Lisa all the time.”

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency LLC.

 


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