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Murkowski says she'll welcome Obama, opens up about Planned Parenthood vote

Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she plans to welcome President Barack Obama when he arrives in Alaska this month -- even though she still doesn't know his full itinerary.

Murkowski, in a question-and-answer session Friday at her Anchorage office, told reporters that she plans to attend a welcome celebration for Obama on Aug. 31 hosted by the Alaska Federation of Natives.

She knows the president will deliver a keynote address at a Department of State conference that day. But beyond that, she's not sure.

"The rumors I hear are that he will be out in two other communities that you have to fly to, and that are on the coast -- one north and one southwest," Murkowski said, referring to the towns of Kotzebue and Dillingham, where White House advance teams visited last month.

Asked if she'd accompany the president if he invited her, she responded: "It is something to consider -- but again, I have not been asked."

Murkowski said she's getting briefed by the Department of State and a White House liaison next week on the details of the conference.

She said she hopes Obama's trip to Alaska will highlight the potential for development in the Arctic -- not just on the impacts of global warming. And she said she hopes the Department of State conference "will not be focused on calving glaciers."

Also during the question-and-answer session, Murkowski clarified her position on federal funding for Planned Parenthood and the use of fetal tissue for medical research.

The Senate took up that issue earlier this month following the release of secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood doctors discussing payments for organs and tissue gathered from abortions -- though the organization maintains it doesn't profit from selling tissue for research.

Experts say that the use of fetal tissue and organs in research has declined, but is still needed to make progress on certain diseases like ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Murkowski took a procedural vote earlier this month to move forward with a measure cutting about $500 million in federal funding for Planned Parenthood, following the release of the videos.

The vote failed and Murkowski said in a statement afterward that she'd planned to submit an amendment to maintain funding, launch investigations and cut off money to any Planned Parenthood affiliates that had "engaged in any illegal and reprehensible behavior."

Murkowski said Friday that she has supported the use of fetal tissue for research, but argued that the secretly recorded videos "lead one to believe" that Planned Parenthood's procedures were illegal. (The law, however, allows "reasonable fees" to cover the organization's costs.)

"The way to do it right is to follow the law. And the problem we have here is we don't know whether or not these affiliates have followed the law or not," Murkowski said.

She said she didn't support the reaction of Congress, which she described as a "sledgehammer approach."

Federal funds to Planned Parenthood already can't be used for abortions, and completely cutting off the money would jeopardize access for people who have benefited from the group's "good work," Murkowski said.

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