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Sen. Murkowski on defying Trump: ‘I cannot live in fear of a tweet’

Gabby Kaufman
·Reporter
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Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on Thursday defended her decision to vote against President Trump’s education secretary nominee, billionaire GOP donor Betsy DeVos.

In an interview with Yahoo News Global Anchor Katie Couric, Murkowski cited both her experience with the public school system in her home state and a flood of messages from her constituents as influences in her decision.

Murkowski argued that while DeVos is an advocate of alternatives to public schools, many rural communities in Alaska are not able to sustain multiple schools.

“In so many of our communities, we don’t really have an opportunity for school choice,” Murkowski said. “If you are a remote, small community in western Alaska, the thought that you could have an alternative school just doesn’t exist.”

“The strength of the public school system was really what Alaskans cared about, and they were very concerned that Mrs. DeVos simply lacked that experience when it came to how we build a better public school system. That is what I was hearing.”

She also said she was concerned about DeVos’ commitment to students with disabilities. In her confirmation hearing, DeVos fumbled a question about the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, saying she believed it to be “a matter that’s best left to the states.” Murkowski said compliance with federal laws like that is “not negotiable.”

“It’s these assurances that allow for a system where all of America’s kids can get a good education,” Murkowski stated.

Assuming all Democratic senators vote against DeVos, the upcoming vote would stand at a 50-50 tie, with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, also against the pick. In that case, Vice President Mike Pence would cast the tie-breaking vote. Murkowski said she was unaware of any other Republican senators who were considering voting against DeVos.

When asked whether she would be comfortable if DeVos were to be confirmed, Murkowski said, “I’ve made clear that she does not have my support, so I think that’s a pretty clear statement.”

Although she said she had not communicated with anyone in the Trump administration since announcing that she would oppose DeVos, Murkowski acknowledged the possibility that she would become the target of the harsh criticism the president likes to dole out via his Twitter feed.

“I cannot live in fear of a tweet,” Murkowski said, laughing. “We as lawmakers should not. What we need to be doing is working for the people that we represent, trying to do best by our states and their people, and doing so in working with a new administration.”

Speaking about Trump’s turbulent first two weeks in office, Murkowski said there are “a lot of bumpy spots in the road right now, a lot of things that have made many of us uncomfortable.” She cited her own “very real reservations” about Trump’s executive order temporarily barring entry to the U.S. for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries and suspending the U.S. refugee program.

The senator also touched on Trump’s remarks Thursday at the National Prayer Breakfast, which he used to taunt his “Celebrity Apprentice” successor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, about the show’s ratings.

“I’m hearing that comment for the first time,” Murkowski told Couric. “And it is, I think, rather extraordinary, given what the focus is at the National Prayer Breakfast.

“To bring up ratings in that manner, I find that a little — more than a little bit surprising.”