Party peers in Senate vote Murkowski to leadership role
WASHINGTON - For Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, the past year has been a whirlwind: the top GOP spot on the Senate Energy committee, a slot on the Senate's powerful Appropriations Committee, and now, a seat at the Senate Republican leadership table.
"I'm going to be busier, that's a given," Murkowski said, just after a press conference announcing her election to the GOP leadership ranks. "It just means that you work a little bit harder."
Thursday, her Senate Republican colleagues voted to make her vice chairwoman of the Republican Conference, the No. 5 leadership position in the five-member GOP leadership ranks. In that role, she'll be in charge of spreading the Republican message, Murkowski said, as well as reaching out to build coalitions.
An example: "It's not just an issue of pushing back, for instance, on a health care plan that doesn't deliver what the president is seeking," Murkowski said, during the press conference announcing the election results. "We need to, as Republicans, be able to voice, be able to express what our solutions, what our plans, what our proposals are and how they truly fit in with the agenda, whether it is from Alaska to Maine or parts in between."
Murkowski's move comes at a low moment for Republicans, reeling from two sex scandals in their top ranks. First, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nevada, disclosed earlier this month that he had had an affair with an aide. Then this week, one of the rising stars of the national Republican Party, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, disclosed his own infidelity.
Indirectly, Ensign's downfall led to Murkowski's ascent into leadership ranks. The position opened up after Ensign resigned, and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., sought his place as the policy committee chair. Murkowski landed Thune's old job as the vice chairwoman of the Republican Conference. Both were unopposed.
Another sex scandal, former senator Larry Craig's 2007 arrest in a Minneapolis airport bathroom, also indirectly helped her land the job of the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. His retirement sped Murkowski's rise as the ranking Republican on that committee.
The Senate's top Republican, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday he was "pleased to welcome them to the team," although both Thune and Murkowski had technically been a part of it before. She had been serving in an informal advisory role to the leadership team as one of three "counsels" McConnell chose earlier this year.
McConnell also downplayed the recent GOP scandals, saying that he and his colleagues are "there to do the people's business. We don't intend to be distracted by any other issues that may be out there."
Murkowski on Thursday acknowledged some of the weaknesses in her own party, and said that part of her job will be to better communicate what Republicans are about, especially to young people.
Murkowski, the only woman in GOP Senate leadership, said she hoped to see more Republican women seek leadership roles.
"We need more women in leadership," Murkowski said. "It's not a good thing to only have one."
It's also not a good thing for the Republican Party to become a regional political party focused in the South, Murkowski said. As a "female Republican from the northernmost state," Murkowski said, she feels the leadership of the Republican Party needs to be "more representative of Republicans across the country."
"We want to be as strongly represented in the Northwest, and in the Northeast and in the Plains state, as we are in the South," she said. "I think it is important that our leadership reflect the diversity of Republicans across the country. We as Republicans need to figure out how we're communicating and making sure that our message is resonating."
MOVING UP: Alaskan has filled sudden vacancies at the top.