Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski was one of two Republicans who voted "no" on the motion to debate the Republican healthcare plan on Tuesday. (Photo: SenateEnergy/Flickr/cc)

Interior Secretary Accused of 'Political Blackmail' After Senator's Trumpcare Vote

Top Democrat on House committee demands investigation into Ryan Zinke's threats to Alaska senators

Julia Conley

The ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee is demanding an investigation into the Interior Department's alleged threats against energy projects in Alaska—apparently made in retribution for Sen. Lisa Murkowski's (R-Alaska) vote against the Republican healthcare plan.

In a move that Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) called "troubling," Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke called both Sullivan and Murkowski on Wednesday, the day after the Senate voted to debate the plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Murkowski was one of two Republican senators who joined all 48 Democrats in casting "no" votes on the motion to proceed to debate; the plan to repeal the ACA would cut $700 billion from Medicaid and eliminate health coverage for at least 22 million Americans over the next decade.

Speaking to the Alaska Dispatch News, Sullivan said the phone call left him concerned that energy projects in the state, where 61 percent of the land is controlled by the federal government, could be in danger. "There's a lot of enthusiasm [in Alaska] for the policies that Secretary Zinke and the president have been talking about with regard to our economy," he said. "But the message was pretty clear."

"Secretary Zinke's willingness to deliver these threats speaks volumes about his ethical standards and demonstrates that Interior's policy positions are up for political grabs, rather than based on science or the public interest." —Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.)

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) called Zinke's action "political blackmail" and likened it to the type of approach that might be taken by the Kremlin.

"Running a department of the federal government means you serve the American people as a protector of their rights and freedoms," Grijalva said Thursday. "It doesn’t mean you serve the president as a bag man for his political vendettas...Secretary Zinke's willingness to deliver these threats speaks volumes about his ethical standards and demonstrates that Interior's policy positions are up for political grabs, rather than based on science or the public interest."

As in other states, the Interior Department is currently reviewing a number of energy and other infrastructure projects in Alaska that depend on federal approval or funding.

The Center for Western Priorities, which describes itself as "a nonpartisan conservation and advocacy organization" aimed at protecting public lands—but also supports increased oil and gas drilling—issued a statement blasting what they perceived as a threat by Zinke against future fossil fuel projects in the state.

Ryan Zinke is revealing himself as Trump’s hitman. He’s now threatening to hold public lands and energy policy hostage over a health care bill. This is the U.S. government, not the Corleone family. Congress and the administration should discuss America's energy and lands policy on the merits, without mob-inspired threats from the Department of the Interior and the White House.

Shortly after Zinke's phone call to Murkowski on Wednesday, as the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Murkowski postponed votes on six Trump administration nominees, including three who would be appointed to the Interior Department.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Rights Groups Decry 'Farcical and Corrupt' Verdict as Myanmar's Suu Kyi Sentenced to Four Years in Prison

"There are many detainees without the profile of Aung San Suu Kyi who currently face the terrifying prospect of years behind bars simply for peacefully exercising their human rights."

Jake Johnson ·


Campaigners Warn of 'Wave After Wave of Variants' as Long as Vaccine Apartheid Remains

"Omicron is with us because we have failed to vaccinate the world. This should be a wake-up call."

Jake Johnson ·


'Utterly Obscene': Just 8 Pfizer and Moderna Investors Became $10 Billion Richer After Omicron Emerged

"Pharma execs and shareholders are making a killing from a crisis they helped to create," said one justice campaigner.

Jon Queally ·


Ilhan Omar Calls Kevin McCarthy 'A Liar and a Coward' for Refusing to Condemn Boebert's Islamophobia

"This is who they are," said the Minnesota Democrat. "And we have to be able to stand up to them. And we have to push them to reckon with the fact their party right now is normalizing anti-Muslim bigotry."

Jon Queally ·


'Congress Must Act': Bernie Sanders Demands End of Filibuster to Codify Abortion Rights

"We must pass legislation that codifies Roe v. Wade as the law of the land in this country. And if there aren't 60 votes to do it, and there are not, we must reform the filibuster to pass it with 50 votes."

Jon Queally ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo