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Interior watchdog to investigate Trump administration threat to Murkowski on health care

  • Author: Reuters
  • Updated: August 4, 2017
  • Published August 4, 2017

WASHINGTON – The Interior Department inspector general's office said it would investigate a reported threat by the agency's head, Ryan Zinke, against Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and the state last week over her opposition to Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare.

Zinke called Murkowski and Alaska's other Republican U.S. senator, Dan Sullivan, on July 26, the day after Murkowski's crucial vote against a motion to begin debate on the health care overhaul.

The interior secretary warned the two senators that Murkowski's vote could have negative consequences for energy and land use in Alaska. Murkowski spokeswoman Karina Peterson confirmed that Zinke had called the senator.

[After last week's controversy, Murkowski and Zinke meet up to share Alaska ales]

The Interior Department deals with policies crucial to the state's economy such as drilling and mining on federal and tribal land and control of wildlife areas.

The inspector general's office sent a letter to U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone and Raul Grijalva, the top Democrats on the House committees on energy and natural resources, respectively, on Thursday evening, saying it would start a preliminary investigation into the matter.

Zinke's office and the GAO did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Murkowski's July 25 "no" vote, along with that of Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, forced Vice President Mike Pence to cast a tie-breaking vote to pass the motion by a 51-50 ballot.

Subsequent efforts in the Senate to repeal the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, collapsed last Friday after Murkowski, Collins and Sen. John McCain of Arizona joined their Democratic and independent Senate colleagues in voting against a "skinny repeal" bill that would have eliminated some parts of Obamacare.

Murkowski chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which oversees appropriations and appointee confirmations for Zinke's agency.

On Thursday, the interior secretary suggested he had reconciled with Murkowski, posting a photo of him drinking Alaska-brand beers with the senator on Twitter.

"I say dinner, she says brews. My friends know me well," he tweeted.