Murkowski punished over defiance; Burr to get top energy slot

Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.) is expected to take over as senior Republican on the Senate Energy panel after Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) lost the position Tuesday.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) was behind the switch.

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McConnell told Republican colleagues at Tuesday’s conference meeting that he had arranged for members of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to vote on someone to replace Murkowski as ranking member of the powerful panel.

A Republican lawmaker who attended the meeting said the discussion about Murkowski was brief and businesslike.

In the same manner, GOP members of the Energy Committee met shortly after Tuesday’s lunch to vote by secret ballot on replacing Murkowski.

Lawmakers on the committee said they expect Burr to take over the role even though they did not know the results of the vote as of Tuesday afternoon.

A GOP lawmaker said Republican leaders thought the most fairest solution was to have Burr take over as acting ranking member until Election Day. If Murkowski wins, she can have her post back, but GOP leaders see that as a remote possibility.

Murkowski’s status as a well-connected Senate insider changed when she decided to run as a write-in candidate in Alaska’s Senate race — a move that upset the GOP leadership. She lost the Republican primary in a shocking upset last month to little-known attorney Joe Miller.

Publicly, Murkowski’s colleagues say she is still a member of their conference and they would love for her to show up at their meetings.

“She’s a member and a colleague, and she’s still in good standing,” said Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.). “You’ve got Independents in the Democratic caucus, too.”

Privately, they say it’s best that Murkowski stay away while she wages her campaign against the Republican nominee.

Murkowski has decided to spare herself any awkward moments with her fellow Republican senators before Election Day.

She 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.

The second-term lawmaker is not scheduled to be in the Senate this week. She is expected to be in Washington on Tuesday when former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. She is not expected to stay in town for Wednesday’s GOP conference meeting.

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.”

Her decision to stay in Alaska this week saved Republicans from having to decide whether to allow her to attend Tuesday’s meeting.

But the loss of her Energy Committee position is a marked difference from how Democrats treated Sen. Joe Lieberman in 2006 after he lost Connecticut’s Democratic Senate primary and chose to run in the general election as an Independent. Lieberman retained his spot as ranking member of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

Murkowski is expected to keep her committee assignments, which includes positions on the Appropriations Committee and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) describes Murkowski as a “friend” and “someone whom I greatly admire.”

But Gregg and other Republicans are moving ahead in support of Murkowski’s general-election opponent.

Gregg said he is hosting a D.C.-area fundraiser for Miller.

The conference is also moving ahead with plans to replace Murkowski in the Republican leadership.

The entire Senate Republican Conference will meet at 2 p.m. Wednesday to ratify the decision Republicans on the Energy Committee made about who should serve as ranking member. Lawmakers will also vote on replacing Murkowski as vice chairwoman of the conference.

Murkowski resigned her conference leadership post after McConnell withdrew his support for her.

So far, only Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) is running for the vice chairmanship. It is possible that Republicans may nominate other candidates at the meeting.

The Wednesday afternoon meeting will allow Burr (or another successor) to preside as ranking Republican of the Energy Committee during a hearing scheduled Thursday morning on the Clean Energy Technology Loan Guarantee Program.

Burr, who has ranked second to Murkowski on the panel, declined to discuss the matter.

J. Taylor Rushing and Ben Geman contributed to this report.

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