Sen. Lisa Murkowski discusses cabinet visits to Alaska, possibilities for 2024

The state’s senior U.S. senator says supporting a third-party presidential candidate is a possibility
Published: Aug. 21, 2023 at 10:17 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - August marks a busy month in Alaska, with many people — whether strangers to the state or not — on personal visits.

The state is also primed for business trips during the summer season, including stops by multiple members of the Biden administration in 2023, with a lengthy list of them arriving in Alaska over the course of several weeks.

”We want them to see the challenges,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, “but we also want them to see the opportunities.”

Murkowski has been on a renewed tour of Alaska, having spent the vast majority of the summer traveling the state for work. By her count, she’s already been to some dozen communities this month.

The senator is next set to welcome Attorney General Merrick Garland to Anchorage on Tuesday, ahead of flying to a couple of remote locations with him, such as Huslia, so that he can get a first-hand, albeit brief, look at what life in Alaska’s rural villages can be like.

”It’s one thing to be in Anchorage and to have others come in and share the story, share the situations,” she said. “It’s another thing to fly out, and to be in a community where you realize that, if the weather shuts in, and there’s no way that troopers can get into the village, no way that outside law enforcement can come in ... You are exposed; there is a vulnerability. So for him to be able to see it, on the ground, is really important.

“The job of the delegation is to move this all along,” Murkowski added, speaking about herself; Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska; and Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska. “When you have the secretaries, the deputy secretaries, the individuals and the agencies who are here, and you can point out the problems and inefficiencies, that’s how we can really make some headway here.”

Among those arriving in Alaska this week, along with Attorney General Garland, are Deputy Secretary of the Interior Tommy Beaudreau, Dept. of Commerce Assistant Secretary Susie Feliz, U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Dr. Richard Spinrad, and Senior Advisor to the President and White House Infrastructure Implementation Coordinator Mitch Landrieu.

When specifically asked about the progress of the five-year infrastructure bill thus far, and the deploying of funds and implementation of programs tied to that legislation, Murkowski said she’s satisfied with the way some agencies are moving but expressed frustration over the slower pace she’s seen from others.

“In fairness, I’m not very satisfied with the pace within which the Department of Energy and the Department of the Interior are getting out the funding for energy-related opportunities,” she said. “Other accounts have done much better. On the commerce side, for instance, funding to the airports was very quick. Funding from or through the Coast Guard was early, early in the process. So I’m satisfied in some accounts as to how they’re moving, and in others, I think we just need to keep pushing them ahead, and pushing them along.”

As for the series of visits from administrative officials, that isn’t necessarily unusual, but it does come at a crucial time: the Arctic and Alaska itself are becoming more and more strategically important, including for the United States; the two-year anniversary of the five-year Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is fast approaching; and much of the nation is already looking at the 2024 presidential election, and what it could mean for the country.

”I think that there’s a lot of analysis that is going on,” Murkowski said, noting that the group No Labels remains hard at work in its efforts toward advancing a potential third-party presidential candidate. “If you look at what the No Labels group is doing, they’re working to lay the groundwork for an alternative if it appears that one would be necessary and effective... but there’s certainly no guarantee that they will actually advance a ‘No Labels’ candidate.”

NBC News previously reported that No Labels will hold a convention in Dallas, Texas, in April 2024. That’s when the group is expected to make a formal nomination for the presidential ticket.

Murkowski emphasized Monday that she stands by what she’s said about a potential rematch between Pres. Joe Biden and Fmr. Pres. Donald Trump – the latter of whom has gone through impeachment proceedings twice and was recently hit with his fourth criminal indictment between the federal and state levels – and that a presidential contest between those two isn’t something she is keen to see.

”I don’t think that there is a real sense of unity in either the Republican party or the Democratic party, in terms of a nominee,” she said. “As complicated as things are on the Republican side right now, there are many, many Democrats who believe Pres. Biden should not stand for reelection. So there is division on that side of the fence as well.

”I think that America can do better than offering up a Biden-Trump rematch,” she said. “If we could start with fresh candidates on both sides, I think the country would be in a better place.”

If the presidential race does come down to Biden and Trump, Murkowski said she would support Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a steadfast ally of Murkowski’s – who supported her recent re-election campaign – and someone who has clearly thought about a presidential run, though he has not officially committed to that as of press time.

Manchin, who has bucked his party numerous times, has repeatedly declined to confirm or rule out a bid for the White House and said that his decision on whether or not he will run won’t be until the end of this year at the earliest. The senior U.S. senator for his state, Machin is also up for re-election in 2024, and will at some point have to decide between following through on that after declaring his candidacy, retiring, or chasing after the Oval Office.

“Sen. Manchin has made clear that it’s not his intention to be a spoiler in a way that would result in a Trump renomination,” Murkowski said. “If it came down to a match-up between Biden and the former president, somebody like Joe Manchin – who is a smart guy, and a straight shooter, and a guy who is very focused on his country – he could be a good person and a strong contender, but I also know that politics are really hard when you try to run as that third party.”

It’s early, she said, to be seeing presidential debates, but for now, Murkowski is focused on the work at hand, including hosting multiple members of Biden’s cabinet in her home state.

“We welcome them at any time,” she said. “We’ve got a lot for them to see, and I’ll take them when they’re here, and make sure they do have that exposure.”