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Murkowski seeks White House’s ‘attention’ on Alaska’s economic concerns as she weighs Biden budget pick

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who holds the key to President Joe Biden’s nominee for budget director, is pushing the White House about some of the new administration’s policies that have a direct impact on Alaska’s economy, namely on energy matters, according to the second-ranking Senate Republican leader.

Murkowski has been sharply critical of some of Biden’s energy policies, including a moratorium on oil and gas leasing on public lands like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Among many other issues, the senator also has been working to get a road project built — called King Cove Road — that the Obama administration opposed because it would hurt wildlife.

Murkowski has been having discussions with the White House for days as she’s held out support for Biden’s pick of Neera Tanden to serve as his head of the Office of Management and Budget. If Murkowski comes out opposed to Tanden, it almost certainly will sink the nomination. Murkowski met with Tanden on Monday afternoon and later told reporters she was still assessing the nomination.

“I have not made up my mind on Tanden,” the senator told CNN on Tuesday afernoon.

It’s unclear what Murkowski’s exact asks are in exchange for supporting Tanden’s nomination, and both she and her staff declined to read out the talks. Murkowski denied asking “any accommodation” in exchange for voting for Tanden.

“I’m not asking the administration to make any accommodations to me or to Alaska for the Tanden nomination or any nomination,” Murkowski told CNN. “I am taking plenty of my free time, and not-so-free time, to make sure that everybody in this administration who is currently in — and anybody who wants to be in– understands the economic situation, understands how Alaska’s economy is situated right now.”

Asked earlier by reporters what she is seeking in exchange for her support of Tanden, Murkowski said, “I’m talking to Alaskans.”

Senate Minority Whip John Thune of South Dakota suggested on Tuesday that Murkowski’s requests had to do with energy policy — and helping the Alaska economy.

“Well, I just think she’s got some concerns about the economy in Alaska, and there are some policies the administration has taken already with respect to energy that are very harmful to Alaska,” Thune told CNN. “I think she is trying to have a conversation with them about things they could do to improve the economic outlook for Alaska.”

Asked if it was about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Thune said, “I’m not going to get into the specifics. I’m sure she can talk to you about that. I just think that she wants to get their attention on some things that are important to her state and she’s got — as any senator does through the nomination process — quite a bit of leverage to do that.”

Thune spoke with Murkowski on Monday night after she met with Tanden. Asked if he believed she would vote for Tanden, Thune wasn’t certain.

“It’s been fluid,” he said.

Tanden’s nomination has been in trouble since Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced his opposition, saying her “overtly partisan statements” against Republican senators and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders during his presidential campaigns would “have a toxic and detrimental impact” on the relationship between Congress and OMB. In a 50-50 Senate, any Democratic defection needs to be replaced by a Republican vote and none so far has emerged. Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona has also not committed to voting for the OMB director nominee.

This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.

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