WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump predicted Saturday that Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, “will never recover” politically for her vote against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as he celebrated his nominee’s ascension following an extraordinarily brutal confirmation process.
In a brief telephone interview with The Washington Post, Trump said voters in Alaska "will never forgive" Murkowski for voting against confirming Kavanaugh, and he forecast her defeat in a Republican primary should she run for reelection in 2022.
"I think she will never recover from this," Trump said. "I think the people from Alaska will never forgive her for what she did."
Trump said the one-week delay in voting on Kavanaugh to allow for an FBI background investigation into sexual assault allegations "turned out to be a great thing, a blessing in disguise." He singled out Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, for praise and commended her for her decisive "yea" vote for Kavanaugh.
“I think what Susan Collins did for herself was incredibly positive,” Trump said. “It showed her to be an honorable, incredible woman. I think she’s got a level of respect that’s unbelievable. I really mean it.”
Trump dismissed chatter on the left about a robust Democratic challenge to Collins when she is up for reelection in 2020. "I think Collins is so popular right now for what she did," the president said.
Trump called The Post from the White House residence on Saturday afternoon, shortly before the Senate held its final vote and before he jetted to Kansas for an evening campaign rally, where he was looking to take a victory lap.
Murkowski voted "no" Friday on a procedural vote to advance Kavanaugh's nomination and opposed his confirmation on Saturday. But she then asked to withdraw her "no" vote as a courtesy to Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., who missed the vote because of his daughter's wedding. The practice, called a "pair between senators," is so that the vote margin would be the same had Daines, who planned to vote for Kavanaugh's confirmation, been there.
Trump spoke at length in the interview about Murkowski's opposition to Kavanaugh and predicted dire political fallout for her in Alaska.
"She doesn't run for four years," he said. "She's lucky."
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin tweeted tauntingly at the senator on Friday: "Hey @LisaMurkowski - I can see 2022 from my house..."
Asked whether Palin might mount a credible GOP primary challenge, Trump said, "I don't know anything about that. It's four years. That's a long time. But they will not forget. They will never forget. What she did was unacceptable. Really unacceptable."
Murkowski has lost a Republican primary before, in 2010 to tea party challenger Joe Miller, but ultimately won reelection in the general election by waging a spirited write-in campaign.
In the interview, Trump went on to boast about his own political standing in Alaska, where he defeated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton 51 percent to 37 percent.
"I won Alaska by many points - I don't know what, but a lot. Sixteen. A lot," Trump said.
The president went on to tell The Post, "You can also say that this is the president that gave Alaska ANWR, which is the biggest oil deal in the world. OK? You know, it's like the biggest in the world. That Ronald Reagan could not get through, that no president could get through."
Trump continued, referencing his predecessors in office: "For almost 50 years they've been trying to get it. Reagan couldn't get it. Nobody could get it. Bush couldn't get it. Clinton tried. I wouldn't say Obama, it's not his deal. I can't imagine he tried. But nobody could get it through, including Ronald Reagan. They worked endlessly and I got it done."
Many environmentalists and scientists long have sought to block energy exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but the Trump administration has moved forward to conduct lease sales for portions of it after Republicans in Congress last December passed tax legislation that included a provision to open an area for oil and gas drilling.
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The Washington Post’s Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.