WASHINGTON — As Alaska’s Republican senators railed against the White House for canceling lease sales in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on Wednesday afternoon, Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan also broke with their party to confirm a Biden administration nominee to the National Labor Relations Board for a second term.
The Alaskans’ votes caught the attention of some D.C. observers, given Sullivan previously voted against the president’s pick, Democrat Gwynne Wilcox. She was confirmed 51-48, with all other Republicans and Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin voting no. Democratic New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker was absent.
The National Labor Relations Board is an independent federal agency that oversees unfair labor cases and private sector union certification. The five-member board had two vacancies, leaving two Democrats and one Republican on the panel. Wilcox’s term expired on Aug. 27. Republican member John Ring retired in December and his seat has been empty since.
Sullivan’s backing of Wilcox’s confirmation stood out because he did not support a procedural vote earlier in the day to advance her confirmation — Murkowski was the only Republican to do so. Sullivan voted against Wilcox’s nomination in 2021.
Sullivan did not answer questions in the Capitol Hill hallways Thursday about his vote and directed a Daily News reporter to a statement from his office:
“Senator Sullivan has said time and time again that he stands with Alaska’s hard-working working men and women, including those in the building trades, who are some of the strongest advocates for responsible resource development in Alaska and who push back hard against the radical far-left groups driving so much of the Biden administration’s damaging anti-Alaska agenda which really hurts working families,” Sullivan spokesperson Ben Dietderich said in a statement.
Murkowski has regularly split from the GOP to back Biden nominees, including Wilcox. Murkowski was the one of two Republicans to vote for Wilcox in 2021 and she was the lone Republican to advance Wilcox’s nomination in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in July.
Murkowski said in an interview Thursday that “when it comes to the NLRB, the board deserves to have a full, operational board.”
Wilcox’s nomination drew criticism from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who wanted the Democratic pick to be paired with a Republican. He said Democrats “are attempting to tip the partisan scales and weaponize a regulatory authority that impacts millions of American workers and businesses.”
Murkowski said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer assured her that Democrats would advance a Republican for the NLRB, which satisfied her enough to vote for Wilcox’s confirmation.
“It was confirmed to me yesterday that a name has been sent up, the president is basically doing the vetting that needs to happen with that, and I’ve been given assurances that the Republican pair will have an opportunity to advance to fill that out” Murkowski said.
Schumer’s office confirmed the agreement.
“What I didn’t want to have happen was to have a situation where you filled all the Democrats seats and you have no incentive to advance the Republicans,” Murkowski added. “This was an important issue to me. I want to see the board function, but I want to make sure there’s continued pressure to get that Republican slot filled.”
She also said that “apparently the Republican name had not been sent up until very recently.”
Though Murkowski said she had information about a Republican candidate, she was not at liberty to share it. Bloomberg Law reported two management-side labor lawyers are being considered for the GOP slot, Terrence Kilroy of Polsinelli PC and Mark Carter of Dinsmore & Shohl LLP.
In response to a question about the timing of a Republican pick, McConnell spokesman Doug Andres said he cannot comment on board and commission nominations processes.
Joelle Hall, president of the Alaska AFL-CIO, said Wilcox “comes very highly regarded out of the American labor movement” and that the National Labor Relations Board is “critically important to organizing in America.”
Hall said she was grateful for the Alaska senators’ votes on the confirmation.
“I think to me, this is a reflection of their beliefs and the tools of government being staffed appropriately and working for the people who need them,” she said. “This is not overly sexy. You know, National Labor Relations Board appointees, I don’t think it’s typically sexy, but it is really important.”