WASHINGTON — Some Democratic lawmakers became unlikely allies of Republican Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski this week after a report of pressure that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was exerting on Murkowski on behalf of President Donald Trump.
Top Democratic congressmen from the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee asked the Government Accountability Office and the Interior Department's independent inspector general to launch investigations into whether Zinke's calls to Murkowski, Sen. Dan Sullivan and others about the health care votes were inappropriate and part of a larger effort.
New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone and Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva tied the calls to an editorial on the health care vote written by Energy Secretary Rick Perry. Pallone also asked for an investigation into whether Perry's efforts represented a misuse of taxpayer funds.
"The close timing of these actions suggests an apparent pattern and organized effort within the Trump Administration involving the use of federal resources to advance partisan legislation," the pair said in letters to GAO and the inspector general.
Zinke called Alaska's lawmakers Wednesday to issue stern warnings about potential Interior-related repercussions for Murkowski's no vote on proceeding with a floor debate on health care legislation.
Sullivan raised serious concerns about impacts to Alaska and the senators' priorities. Murkowski — who heads the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which oversees the Interior Department's actions and staffing, and the Interior and Environment Subcommittee for Appropriations — expressed far less concern.
Murkowski said Wednesday she hoped the administration would continue to cooperate on priorities that she and Trump share.
"I certainly hope that those in the administration will continue to work with all of us — all of the Alaska delegation — on priorities that are not only important to Alaska, they're important to the country," she said.
The administration also heard from the Western Values Project, a pro-oil conservation group. The group filed a Freedom of Information Act request for information about contact between Zinke and Murkowski, Sullivan and several other senators who were potential swing votes on the health care issue.
For her part, Murkowski said she was not bothered by the call and that it was within the president's rights to seek to persuade.
She was not, in the end, persuaded. Murkowski was one of three Republican senators who voted against a "repeal" bill in the early hours of Friday morning.
CORRECTION: This story incorrectly identified Rep. Raul Grijalva's state. He represents Arizona's 3rd District, not New Mexico.