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Alaska congressional delegation in the dark on Obama visit

So far, Alaska's three-member congressional delegation has been relegated to the sidelines when it comes to planning for President Barack Obama's upcoming visit to the state.

"Well, what we hear is he's going to Kotzebue and Dillingham because there's all these people in suits that keep flying in and blocking rooms, so, yeah, that's what we know," Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Thursday.

But so far, nobody's blocked off any time with her.

"They have not contacted me and, again, have not given me any reason to think that there might be a possibility," Murkowski said. "So I'm not planning on it."

"I was not invited," Sen. Dan Sullivan said Friday. "Some people have said, 'I heard you refused.' I haven't gotten any invites to anything -- riding on Air Force One or greeting the president -- I haven't, just for the record."

Sullivan and Murkowski are speaking at the opening of the Arctic conference the U.S. State Department is running. "I did get invited to that," Sullivan said.

"It's alright. I've got a lot of work to do," Sullivan said. But if he does get an invite, he'll be there, up for any "opportunity to bend the president's ear on our priorities."

Details on the president's trip to Anchorage and other destinations around the state remain elusive not just to Murkowski, Sullivan and Rep. Don Young -- they may be incomplete for even the White House.

Murkowski said she has been briefed by Admiral Robert Papp, the U.S. special representative for the Arctic, on the State Department's plans for the conference.

"And it was funny because he's giving me the lowdown on who's coming … and the admiral says, 'I don't know much about the president's visit; they're not telling me either,'" Murkowski said.

Nevertheless, the president will touch down in the Last Frontier in a little over a week. And just about everyone has suggestion for what he should see and do while he's here.

Meanwhile, among the delegation -- and some Alaskans -- there is ongoing apprehension Obama will arrive with an unwelcome announcement regarding federal lands or Arctic drilling.

Murkowski said there's a lot of push for the president to make it out to a village, such as Kivalina, but she has heard that "logistically, it's just too hard."

"I think that's been part of the issue, is that people want him to get out to some of these more remote places, but logistically and from a security perspective, it's just too hard to do."

"So, I don't know… I think what we will see is Kotzebue and Dillingham," Murkowski said.

Many suspect the trip's focus will be limited to climate change, the scenic Arctic landscape a melting backdrop on Obama's road to an international climate deal in Paris in December.

The delegation hopes, however, they can convince White House officials to expand the trip to reach a variety of other issues.

Murkowski has repeatedly said she hopes Obama won't stick exclusively to climate change while he's in Alaska. And Sullivan said Friday his team has reached out to the administration to suggest a variety of issues for Obama to explore.

Sullivan suggested focusing on the "military and strategic aspects of Alaska," especially the Anchorage brigade combat team headed for the chopping block in the next two years. "He should … see these soldiers, the top Arctic warriors in the country," Sullivan said.

In a letter to Obama this week, Young pressed him on building Arctic icebreakers, urging the president "to look at the broadest range of options … for acquiring the federal icebreaking services needed to carry out federal safety, security, and environmental stewardship missions in the Arctic -- including the chartering of a fleet of privately constructed, privately operated icebreakers that can be paid for by several pertinent agencies."

"Your upcoming trip to the Arctic offers the opportunity to announce just this sort of bold and desperately needed initiative," Young wrote.

Sullivan also hopes the president will take in some information on the dearth of U.S. icebreakers compared to Russia. "The highways of the Arctic are icebreakers. And right now the Russians have superhighways and we have dirt roads with potholes, if that," Sullivan said.

He suggested Obama take a look at communities struggling with water and sewer issues, as well as the state's ongoing problems with domestic violence and sexual assault.

At a group briefing with Vice President Joe Biden, Sullivan spoke of the issue, he said.

"He literally looked at me in front of all the other AGs and said, 'Jeez, Dan, that's a big issue. I've been focused on that my whole career. Do you have time on your schedule tomorrow to come brief me on that matter?" The next day, "I sat down with Vice President Biden in his West Wing office for almost an hour and he literally said to me, 'Whatever we can do to help you guys on this, we will do it,'" Sullivan said.

"It would be great to have the president recommit to that issue."

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