Politics

Murkowski championed bipartisan shutdown deal accepted by president

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski this week championed the bipartisan deal that President Donald Trump on Friday said he would accept to end the longest federal government shutdown in history, the same day that 800,000 federal workers missed their second straight paycheck.

It was a familiar spot for Murkowski, R-Alaska, who has found herself in the middle of other major congressional conflicts — including when she joined moderate Republicans in 2017 refusing to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Speaking on the Senate floor on Friday, Murkowski said there’s “never a good reason to have a government shutdown" and she supports legislation to prevent it from ever happening again.

[Murkowski apologizes to federal workers as shutdown ends]

Murkowski on Friday also blasted Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, calling him “so clearly out of touch” with the shutdown’s impacts on unpaid federal workers, according to a report in Politico. Ross had said Thursday he didn’t understand why the unpaid employees were visiting food banks rather than taking out loans they could repay once they received back pay.

Since the partial government shutdown began Dec. 22, Murkowski steadfastly joined bipartisan discussions seeking to resolve the impasse, said Karina Borger, a spokeswoman. Those discussions evolved into the plan introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, joined by Murkowski as a co-sponsor, Borger said.

[Alaska’s congressional delegation seeks shutdown solution]

Trump said Friday that he’d accept their offer providing funding to reopen the government for three weeks, giving lawmakers time to find a solution over his demand for $5.7 billion in border wall funding, and Democratic opposition.

The Senate passed the bill in a voice vote Friday, providing funding to reopen the nine closed departments until Feb. 15. The House was expected to quickly follow suit in an effort to get it signed the president on Friday, Borger said. The goal is paying workers what they’re owed next week, as early as possible, she said.

Murkowski, at a news conference Thursday that included Cardin, said an important moment came earlier that day, after the Senate rejected two rival measures to reopen the government, one from Democrats without border wall funding, and one from Trump with the funding included.

After the failed votes, Murkowski helped lead a floor discussion that included 17 senators offering support for the short-term deal and committing to negotiations for enhanced border security. It was the first time since the shutdown began that a bipartisan group of senators had made a public commitment to work together on a solution, she said at the news conference.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, voted for the measure Friday, his office said. Sullivan had championed an effort to pay 41,000 active-duty and retired Coast Guard personnel as a step toward ending the shutdown. He’d also supported another effort to pay all other federal workers, not just those in the Coast Guard, who were working without pay. Those efforts failed Thursday after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer objected, saying all federal workers needed to be paid and put back to work.

On Thursday, Sullivan voted for the measure from Trump providing border wall funding while also reopening the government. Sullivan voted against the measure that was similar to the one passed on Friday, saying it would be vetoed by Trump. But Trump on Friday announced he would accept a short-term deal.

On Friday, Sullivan said he “welcomed” the end of the shutdown for the sake of impacted federal workers, according to a statement from his office.

Sullivan said he spoke with Trump by phone Friday morning, part of ongoing, cross-aisle discussions he has had with the president and lawmakers about resolving the dispute. He talked to the president about the need for stronger border security, and for a quick major disaster declaration to free up federal funding to help Alaskans affected by the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that struck near Anchorage in November, Sullivan told a reporter by phone.

Sullivan, in his statement Friday, said the debate over border security is far from over. He said fences and walls work on the border.

“The president and Republicans have been putting forward various proposals that include priorities from each party. Now we need the Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate to come to the table in good faith to focus on border security and other immigration reform issues. I certainly hope they do,” Sullivan said.

Speaking on the Senate floor Friday, Murkowski said she’d been Skyping with Coast Guard spouses in Sitka, home to a U.S. Coast Guard Air Station. One spouse with a 1-year-old said she’d recently cried with her husband about her possibly leaving the Southeast town to live with family elsewhere because she could not afford to live there without his pay, Murkowski said.

“This has been a harsh and difficult time, and it has been particularly painful for me coming from a state where we are feeling the impacts of this particular shutdown perhaps more than any other state out there,” Murkowski said, referring to the large percentage of affected federal employees who work in Alaska.

“We cannot mess with people’s lives this way,” said Murkowski, who said she would work toward a long-term solution to prevent future shutdowns.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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