Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski spent months withholding her endorsement of or opposition to Donald Trump, the party's presidential nominee.
But on Saturday, Murkowski, who's running for re-election, condemned the GOP nominee, issuing a written statement that called for Trump to "step aside" and criticizing his crude comments about women that were made public in a video published Friday by the Washington Post.
Murkowski elaborated in an interview outside her Midtown Anchorage campaign office Saturday morning. She explained why she waited a day to respond (she was campaigning in the Southwest Alaska community of Dillingham on Friday) described her "disgust" when she saw the Post's video on an aide's phone, and talked about how her party was exploring whether Trump can be replaced on the ballot.
Listen to the full interview below and read a transcript below the Soundcloud player.
Q: How's it going?
Murkowski: Well, you know, we've had interesting days around here.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about what the last 24 hours has been like for you?
Murkowski: I was in Dillingham yesterday. And you know, my phone doesn't work out there in Dillingham. so I didn't have communication from anybody here. Had no idea what was going on. The woman that was traveling with me had a different phone service and she literally pulls up this video as I'm there at the Dillingham airport.
Q: Were you sitting in the terminal?
Murkowski: We had just pulled up the car and were getting ready to go in because our flight was already boarding. We watched that. You know, here I am in Dillingham — and, in so many of our rural communities we have huge problems with domestic violence, sexual assault. I had just come from a community meeting where a woman gave an extraordinarily powerful statement, spoke for 15 minutes about how her daughter, her 21-year-old daughter, had been lured to Anchorage by a boyfriend, and was this close to being part of a human sex trafficking operation. And she had the whole room in tears. And it was just a reminder, a very visceral reminder, that in this state we have some of the worst statistics when it comes to abuse of our women, when it comes to these predatory practices. And it's just not this woman from Dillingham — you take it back to the days of Bill Allen. A rich man who could get whatever he wanted because he was rich. Watching this video just took me back to all of the problems that we have. You asked how I felt? Disgusted.
Q: Did it make you wish you had disavowed him earlier?
Murkowski: I've never endorsed the guy. I have always held off in every statement that I have made. And people have been pressing me to endorse him and I have not endorsed him. I think what we saw, what I saw in that video was just, his true character coming out. And there had been statements made throughout this campaign process where you could see glimpses of that. But when you see it coming out of the mouth of the man.
Q: In the reaction to what you put on Facebook — there were two different kinds of people. One saying thank you so much for your leadership and putting this guy in his place. But then some people saying, like, 'Who do you think you are? This is our party's nominees — you don't have the power to do this.' What's your sense of what this means for your campaign and how people are looking for the Senate race at this point?
Murkowski: When I believe somebody is not fit to hold the office, I have to speak up. And I have done that. It's where I am.
Q: Will that mean that you lose some people?
Murkowski: Here's where we are. What I have said, and you've gotten the statement, is, I think he needs to step aside. I hope that he does. If he doesn't, I know that there is discussion going on right now within the party to look at the process of how we might have a different nominee. I don't know how that's going to unfold — I have no idea.
Q: Who have you heard that from?
Murkowski: I had a conversation with our state party chairman. I've talked to Tuckerman (Babcock).
Q: Big picture, looking one year, five years, 10 years into the future, what does this all mean for the party and politics?
Murkowski: I don't know what it means for us today. Really. I've just been, just — I couldn't sleep last night. And you know, this is not about my race. This is about leadership for our country. And I think just the disappointment with where we are in this process is, I don't know. I'm still having a difficult time even putting in words how I feel about where we are right now.
Q: Did you make your decision about where you were on Trump last night or this morning?
Murkowski: It was instantaneous. When I saw the video, I said 'I'm done, this is over.'
Q: Why not release that until this morning then?
Murkowski: Well, I didn't get home until 9:30 last night after traveling all day. So, I wasn't going to call you up and say 'Nat, I've gotta talk to you, I've gotta spill my guts.'
Q: Were you at all coordinating with (U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan) at all? Because we heard from you guys minutes apart.
Murkowski: (Campaign spokesman Robert) Dillon was just sharing something that somebody said, 'Oh, you guys were coordinating.' I'm like, 'Coordinating?' I don't even know where he is. These guys (campaign staff) weren't coordinating with him. I didn't read his statement until about a half an hour ago, when I was reading the statements of all of the other colleagues, but after I'd already issued my statement. This was Lisa Murkowski putting a statement out there for people to know where i'm coming from.
Q: Are you going to vote for Hillary Clinton?
Q: Who are you going to vote for?
Murkowski: Again, we're sitting in a place where, I think, the right thing for Trump to do right now is to get out, to step aside.
Q: Is there a realistic chance of that?
Murkowski: Well, this is still Saturday morning. But what I'm starting to see come across the wire is, there's an awful lot of people that are saying, 'This just is not acceptable. This is not acceptable for him to be our nominee.' And calling for him to step down. So we'll see. I mean, there's a debate tomorrow night.
Q: Are you going to be watching?
Murkowski: You bet.