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Can Alaska's congressional delegation make nice with Trump?

  • Author: Erica Martinson
  • Updated: November 13, 2016
  • Published November 13, 2016

Alaska U.S. Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski in August. (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News)

Alaska's all-Republican congressional delegation is looking for ways to get along with president-elect Donald Trump after spending the last few months backing away from his candidacy.

At the end of January, the Republican Party will control the White House and both chambers of Congress, though the majority in the Senate is narrow. They have plans to get some things done: repeal the Affordable Care Act, take on immigration and border security and promote "big league jobs," Trump said after meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at the Capitol Thursday.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski is expected to hold onto her chairmanship of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee — a key position given Trump's promises to expand energy production in the United States.

But the president-elect isn't known for letting grudges go easily, and it's not yet clear whether he'll hold Murkowski and others' feet to the fire for refusing to support his candidacy.

Trump's win "is not a validation of a party" or "a validation of any special-interest groups," said Jerry Ward, who headed up Trump's campaign in Alaska.

Trump friend Bob Gillam, an Alaska investor and founder of McKinley Capital Management, said he thinks Trump and Alaska's senators will get along fine, despite their past differences. Trump "didn't get to be the pragmatic businessman that he is by holding a grudge against anyone" he came up against in New York, Gillam said.

Alaska U.S. Rep. Don Young never explicitly rejected Trump, though he consistently said the candidate wasn't his cup of tea. In the Alaska Public Media debate just days before casting his ballot, Young said he wasn't sure yet whether he would vote for Trump. "When I vote that'll be my business, as is yours," he said, before saying that "… Clinton will be bad for Alaska." Pressed about whether he would vote for Trump, Young said "probably, but we're not sure yet."

Rep. Don Young bends to wave to a motorist stopped at a traffic light as he campaigns last Monday along the Seward Highway in Anchorage. (Erik Hill / Alaska Dispatch News)

But Murkowski and Alaska's Sen. Dan Sullivan were much more explicit. Throughout the year, they criticized some of Trump's statements. They said his statements about an American judge of Mexican heritage were racist, and his one-time plan to bar all Muslims from entering the United States was unconstitutional.

And when a 2005 recording of Trump describing his own sexual aggression toward women emerged, they each declared it the last straw and said they would not vote for Trump.

Sullivan called for him to step down from the ticket.

Murkowski ultimately decided on a write-in option.

"I mean, really, I'm not gonna not vote. But I have decided that I want my vote to be an affirmative vote. I don't want it to be the lesser of two evils. And I really feel that both of the major party candidates are flawed candidates. So I can't support them. So I want my vote to be a positive affirmation of the type of person that I want to run the country," Murkowski said on the eve of the election, declining to name her chosen write-in option.

But both quickly warmed to the idea of a Trump presidency.

Sullivan congratulated Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence in a statement the day after the election. "They clearly heard and gave voice to the concerns of millions of our citizens who feel the American dream is slipping away," he wrote.

"I look forward to working closely with our new president and his administration on issues critical to Alaska and America: energy independence, infrastructure, robust economic growth and jobs, a strong military, and rolling back the Obama administration's executive orders and overregulation of our economy," Sullivan said.

The day after the election, Murkowski congratulated the winners and said she looked forward to working with the campaign in a "fresh new start and the opportunity to come together."

On election night, Murkowski was cautious in making an early judgement about the election's meaning. Trump's win seemed to show that many Americans are striking out at the status quo, but they also still re-elected many members of Congress, she noted.

A "consensus" will still be necessary in Congress, she said. "We'll need that with ANWR. We'll need that with a number of issues that have always been complicated in Alaska. So. But it does clear a path for us, which I think is exciting," she said.

There's a lot of angst, anger and frustration at play across America, Murkowski said. "And again, when I say governing is hard — it's really going to be hard. There is anger out there. There is distrust of the establishment."

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