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Sen. Lisa Murkowski on disagreeing with the president

Few Republicans disagree publicly with President Trump more than Alaskan Sen. Lisa Murkowski. She has diverged from the White House stance on health care, the environment and the Supreme Court, among other issues. Now Murkowski is bucking her party by refusing to support Trump’s national emergency declaration over funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. She talks to Judy Woodruff about why.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Few Republicans publicly disagree with President Trump on issues critical to his agenda.

    One of that very small group is Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who has stood apart on health care, one Supreme Court appointment, and the environment.

    Last week, she announced that she would not support the president's emergency declaration to fund a southern border wall.

    I sat down with Senator Murkowski earlier today, and began by asking her, why not?

  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska:

    So, the president has gone above and beyond what Congress has clearly indicated that they are willing to do.

    I have not supported the designation of a national emergency that would allow the president to basically go around the will and the intent of the Congress just laid out a matter of weeks ago.

    I do think that there are sources that he can turn to that do not require emergency declaration, such as the Treasury Asset Forfeiture Fund. There is some ability within the counterdrug fund he can tap into.

    But when you use the National Emergencies Act to effectively expand executive powers by legislative acquiescence, I think that sets a dangerous precedent, and I don't think that it's a path that we should take.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But the president is saying it's entirely within his right as president of the United States to do this.

    In addition to that, he points to the fact that the number of people crossing that border has more than doubled just in the month of February from what it was a year ago. It is something that's literally out of control.

  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska:

    My concern is that, because the National Emergencies Act doesn't clearly define the criteria, there is a gray area.

    So we know that this is going to be contested in the courts. And so the question is probably not, can he do it, but should he do it? Again, is this an expansion of that executive authority by way of encroachment on the legislative branch, which has those appropriating powers specifically designated to them?

    So, I think we can address fairly and honestly the issue, the crisis, as the president describes it, at the border using available funding opportunities without overstepping the constitutional lanes that have been very clearly defined.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to broaden this out for a moment, because you — not supporting the president on this.

    You have supported him this term, I guess, two-thirds of the votes that came up. Overall, I read it was 80 percent of the time you voted with President Trump, but you have also opposed him on significant moves, the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. There have been other important votes.

    You have carved out a place for yourself as a moderate Republican. How hard is it to be a moderate Republican right now?

  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska:

    I come from a pretty independent state.

    Alaskans are pretty opinionated, and we're not afraid to share our opinions. But we are a state that is very conservative, but also very, I think, broad and expansive in our way of thinking, a very diverse, eclectic, independent people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you think when you hear the criticism of many, if not most Republicans that they just don't have the backbone to stand up to this president? Do you think there's something to that?

  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska:

    I can't put myself in the shoes of others.

    I do know that it is hard to go against your party, because you have folks that say, you are a Republican, you should always act as a Republican.

    My rejoinder to that is, I represent all Alaskans. It's a challenging thing to do, to try to represent that eclectic and very independent constituency, but I try to do what I believe is best, and to have that backbone to stand up to whomever or whatever.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to ask you about something that is in the news right now, and that is this rapidly expanding congressional investigation into President Trump, his potential Russian ties, his businesses, potential obstruction of justice.

    The House Democrats have issued requests, summons for documents from scores the president's associates, even family members. Is it within their purview to be doing this? Is this something that you think is appropriate?

  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska:

    I understand full well that, when you have one body that is consumed, occupied, to the exclusion of all else, on an effort to bring down a president, we don't get any business done.

    And, in the meantime, the country suffers. So we have got a job to do here. Part of our job — and I clearly respect the role of the oversight, but I also don't want us to lose sight of our obligations and our responsibilities as lawmakers to be ensuring that the business of the country is conducted.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Should the White House be cooperating, or should they be, as they are, calling this a big fishing expedition?

  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska:

    Well, I think if you have efforts by committees that are chasing things down a rabbit trail just to be obstreperous, just to frustrate and delay, that's not productive.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, they argue it's legitimate.

  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska:

    Keep in mind the authorities within certain committees. Does every committee need to be involved in this?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The last thing I want to ask you about is this — your legislation dealing with public lands in this country, designating wilderness, addressing water conservation, promoting purchasing of public lands, access to open spaces.

    It passed overwhelmingly just a few weeks ago. What difference is it going to make with regard to public lands in this country?

  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska:

    On the policy side of it, I think it's important to recognize that, from the perspective of a conservation piece, permanent authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund is significant, not only in how it will help to facilitate our federal lands, but also with the support that goes to the stateside programs, very significant for a place like Alaska, where we already have our share of federal lands.

    But that support for stateside funding is very, very significant. So many parochial, small matters that would be considered so minor to us here in Washington, D.C., and yet for a small — a small community in South Dakota, you're able to convey certain land, so an airport can have a small expansion.

    These allow for economies to thrive, for opportunities in places where opportunities are perhaps limited. It helps with our parks and access. It helps with sportsmen's issues. It helps with water management issues. It's pretty significant.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And how big a shift is it, in the sense that Republicans, who traditionally vote against expansion of public lands, voted for this?

  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska:

    Fair enough.

    But, again, this is the beauty of something that is constructed in such a highly cooperative manner. You have what is called compromise, the good old-fashioned legislative term of compromise.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Lisa Murkowski, thank you very much.

  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska:

    Good to be with you.

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