Murkowski weighs Tanden’s fate with Alaska on her mind

By | March 2, 2021

Neera Tanden’s been in Senate purgatory for a week now as she and the Biden administration fight to convince Sen. Lisa Murkowski to back her bid to be White House budget chief. And Murkowski isn’t making any sudden moves.

The moderate Alaska Republican’s vote is “fluid” at the moment, said Senate Republican Whip John Thune (R-S.D.). Murkowski met with Tanden on Monday and said she has more follow-up questions, and Thune said Murkowski also has bigger concerns about her home state of Alaska.

“She’s got concerns about the economy in Alaska. And there are some policies that the administration has taken already that are very harmful to Alaska. And she’s trying to have a conversation with them about things they can do to help improve the economic outlook,” Thune said on Tuesday after visiting with Murkowski this week.

“She obviously wants to get their attention on things that are important to her state. And she’s got, as any senator does, particularly through the nomination process, quite a bit of leverage,” Thune said. “It’s been fluid.”

Murkowski isn’t letting anything on, telling reporters on Monday that she had a good meeting with Tanden but is still weighing her nomination. She spoke for a long period with Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) on Monday evening; both have denounced the Biden administration’s pause on new oil and gas exploration on federal lands.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and several swing-vote Republicans have announced opposition to Tanden, in part because of her frequent Twitter attacks in the past, making Murkowski the deciding vote at the moment. The White House is standing by its nominee amid Tanden’s mounting troubles.

As Murkowski deliberates, the confirmation process for Tanden has been stalled. Committee votes on her nomination have been postponed until there’s at least a path to getting her 50 votes on the floor, with Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont undecided.

Democratic sources said senators on the panel don’t want to vote on Tanden until it’s clear she can be confirmed. If Murkowski were to join all 49 Democratic caucus members other than Manchin, Tanden’s nomination could prevail — and the Republican would hand the Biden White House a major victory.

What Biden could give Murkowski in terms of her home state’s energy industry is unclear. Backtracking on early moves to pause drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and temporarily halt new lease sales for oil and gas drilling on federal lands would mean breaking major campaign promises for Biden.

Murkowski noted in a January statement that while she supports moving toward “clean, sustainable energy” that “inhibiting Alaska’s resource development will only hamper our ability to recover” from the ongoing pandemic that has ravaged the state.

Anthony Adragna contributed reporting.