By Alexander Bolton - 09/21/10 03:38 PM EDT
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) does not plan to return to Washington this week, sparing Republican leaders the awkward decision of whether to allow her to attend a party strategy lunch Tuesday.
She will also skip an Energy and Natural Resources Committee meeting on Thursday that she is scheduled to preside over as the ranking minority member of the panel.
The question of Murkowski’s standing in the GOP conference is expected
to come up at Tuesday’s private lunch meeting.
Two Senate GOP aides expressed doubt that leaders would push a motion to kick her out of the conference, take away her committee assignments or demote her on the Energy panel.
It is possible, however, that a conservative member offers a motion to punish Murkowski in order to express solidarity with Joe Miller, the Tea Party-backed candidate who defeated her in the Senate GOP primary last month.
Murkowski has told constituents she is locked in a political fight
that will have an impact on the future of Alaska and will spend most of
her time between now and the election at home campaigning.
Michael Brumas, a spokesman for Murkowski, said “she will decide on a case-by-case basis whether to return to Washington for particular votes or other business.”
Murkowski is supposed to preside as ranking Republican over an Energy Committee hearing on the Clean Energy Technology Loan Guarantee Program scheduled for Thursday. But she is not planning to attend, according to a Murkowski aide.
Robert Dillon, the Republican spokesman for the committee, said aides will begin making calls to find a temporary replacement.
“It’s no signal of anything permanent,” said Dillon, discounting the notion that whoever takes over Thursday for Murkowski would become the de facto ranking member of the Energy Committee.
Dillon explained that committee staff would work down the panel’s seniority list to find a substitute.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who ranks behind Murkowski on the panel, would receive the first call.
Murkowski ran afoul of Senate GOP leaders by announcing last week that she would run for reelection as a write-in candidate. Republican leaders pressed her not to challenge Miller.
After Murkowski made her announcement Friday, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) withdrew his support for her continued service as vice chairman of the Senate GOP conference.
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the second-ranking Senate Republican leader, on Monday expressed his frustration with Murkowski’s decision.
“I am bothered by anything that makes it less likely that we can elect a Republican, especially in a state where we had every hope of electing one,” Kyl said. “Both in Delaware and in Alaska now, it's less likely than it was just two weeks ago. And looking at how we might try to regain control of the Senate, that's the part that bothers me,” he added.
— J. Taylor Rushing contributed to this report.