While most Senate Republicans may be prepared to move past Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s decision to run a write-in campaign against GOP nominee Joe Miller this fall, it doesn’t mean her position as the ranking member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee is safe.
Murkowski’s office has consistently said that she will look to retain her position as ranking member, and Republican aides said last week that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and other top Republicans are not interested in seeing her pushed out.
But committee and subcommittee leadership decisions are made by committee members, and McConnell has no control over whether a challenge is mounted.
Murkowski’s fate as the top ranking Republican on the energy panel depends largely on what moves other ranking members make — and how many new Republican members are added to committees after their electoral thumping of Democrats.
And while those decisions will remain up in the air for weeks or even months, one thing is certain: Sen. Richard Burr isn’t ruling out a bid to oust Murkowski.
“Oh no, no, not at all,” the North Carolina Republican said earlier this week when asked if he could rule out a challenge. But Burr, the ranking member on the Veterans' Affairs Committee, was careful to explain that there are many scenarios in which there would be no challenge to Murkowski.
“There’s a lot of moving parts here,” Burr said, noting that if Sen. Mike Enzi (Wyo.) opts to not stay on as the ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, he could look to take the energy committee position.
GOP aides also pointed to a second, though less likely, scenario, in which Murkowski could face a rebellion on the committee.
While leadership and most rank-and-file Republicans are happy with the return of Murkowski — and the loss by tea party favorite Miller — conservatives in the conference could see her as hostile to their efforts to remake the party. Murkowski has repeatedly called out Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.) in recent days, accusing him of costing the party control of the chamber by backing tea party candidates such as Miller.
With a number of new members in DeMint’s camp looking for slots, including Sens.-elect Mike Lee (Utah) and Rand Paul (Ky.), Murkowski could face a decidedly conservative GOP side of the conference — one that may not want her at the top.