Interior chief says he and Alaska senator bond over beers

Interior chief says he and Alaska senator bond over beers

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke says he has mended fences with Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski after a widely reported dispute over Murkowski's vote to oppose the GOP health care bill.

Zinke tweeted a photo Thursday of the two Republicans enjoying Alaskan beers at his Washington home. "I say dinner, she says brews. My friends know me well," Zinke wrote, adding a beer emoji and "thanks" to Murkowski.

The Alaska Dispatch News reported last week that Zinke called Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, to warn of repercussions for the state if Murkowski failed to toe the Trump administration line's on health care. The remarks made national news amid intense debate over the health care bill, which later failed in the Senate.

Murkowski, who leads the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, was one of three Republicans to vote against the bill. She said last week she did not consider the call from Zinke a threat.

Zinke called the idea that he threatened Murkowski or Sullivan "laughable," adding that "the moon has been characterized as other things, too."

Still, Zinke invited Murkowski to his home Wednesday night and tweeted the photo of the two smiling over beers to his nearly 50,000 followers on his official Interior Department account.

In addition to heading the energy committee, which has say over Interior Department business and nominations, Murkowski also leads a Senate Appropriations subcommittee with authority over the department's budget. She postponed an energy committee vote on nominations the day after the phone call from Zinke, although she attributed that to an unspecified "hiccup" with one of the nominees.

That committee approved three department nominees on Thursday, hours after the beer summit at Zinke's home, as well as two nominees for the Energy Department.

In public remarks, Murkowski has played down the call from Zinke, telling reporters last week that "he was just sharing the concern that the president expressed to him to pass on to me." She and Zinke, a former Montana congressman, have a "cordial, respectful and friendly relationship. I don't think that will change one bit," she said.

The notion of a Cabinet official warning senators of retribution over health care is highly unusual, even as President Donald Trump has lashed out at GOP members of Congress for balking at his policies. The day after a key procedural vote on health care, Trump tweeted: "Senator @lisamurkowski of the Great State of Alaska really let the Republicans, and our country, down yesterday. Too bad!"

After the bill failed last Friday, Trump tweeted again: "3 Republicans and 48 Democrats let the American people down."

Alaska has a range of issues affected by the federal government, including proposals to build a road through a remote wildlife refuge and drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Several Alaskans also have been nominated for key posts at the Interior Department, and Murkowski and Sullivan have pushed to expand drilling on federal land in Alaska's North Slope near the Arctic Ocean.

Sullivan told the Alaska newspaper: "I'm not going to go into the details, but I fear that the strong economic growth, pro-energy, pro-mining, pro-jobs and personnel from Alaska who are part of those policies are going to stop."

From his perspective, Sullivan told reporters, "the sooner we can get back to cooperation between the administration and the chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the better."


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