Alaska Republican U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski is disappointed with the GOP for their enabling of President Donald Trump and his zany antics the past four years, and has hinted she might leave the party.
Democrats, of course, swept the Georgia Senate runoffs last week and, as a result, will control Congress’ upper chamber by way of earning a 50-50 split with Republicans. Should there be a tie, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will have the deciding vote thus giving Dems the edge. And of greater importance, Democrats, with their slim majority, will control the agenda in the U.S. Senate.
Given Democrats will control the U.S. Senate anyway, what impact could Murkowski have if she became a Democrat or an Independent who caucused with the Democrats?
Answer: Potentially significant
Dems have no room to lose a senator, whether via a medical emergency or scandal. Should a Democratic Member representing a state with a Republican governor resign, die or become incapacitated in the next two years, a Republican would be selected to take that senator’s place and U.S. Senate control would subsequently flip back to the GOP as a result.
The following Democratic senators (12), whose states have Republican governors, must serve until at least January 2023 to ensure Dems maintain control: Mark Kelly, Kyrsten Sinema, Ben Cardin, Chris Van Hollen, Elizabeth Warren, Ed Markey, Jon Tester, Jeanne Shaheen, Maggie Hassan, Joe Manchin, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.
Should Murkowski caucus with the Democrats, they’d increase their lead over Republicans from 50-50 to 51-49 so they’d have a little more leeway in case of an untimely emergency (There are currently 48 Democrats and two left-leaning Independents who caucus with the Democrats).
Second, although Sen Murkowski, as a longtime moderate, is no stranger to aligning with Democrats, she would probably vote with them a bit more often if she were part of their caucus.
For example, the late Sen Jim Jeffords, who famously flipped control of the Senate in 2001 by forfeiting his Republican status to become an Independent and caucus with Democrats, sided more with the Democrats than Republicans following his change in party affiliation.
Rest-assured, if Murkowski stays put Senate Democrats will be holding their collective breaths when Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema chime in on some of their more liberal proposals. Manchin and Sinema, although Dems, aren’t beholden to left-of-center interests and sometimes side with the Republicans.
Should Murkowski make the change, though, Dems could breathe a little easier knowing a bill would still have a small chance to succeed if either Manchin or Sinema weren’t on board.
Why would Murkowski surrender her Republican status to caucus with Democrats?
For starters, she’s always been a moderate. But since the rise of Trump, she fears the GOP she once knew has shed its party’s values for Trumpism.
She wouldn’t be leaving the party because the party, in essence, has already left her.
“If the Republican Party has become nothing more than the party of Trump, I sincerely question whether this is the party for me,” Murkowski told the Anchorage Daily News newspaper last week.
And she had made it no secret how she feels about Trump and his role in the violent Capitol riot last week.
Shortly after the articles of impeachment news, the Anchorage Daily News reported that Sen. Lisa Murkowski wants Trump “out” of office immediately.
“I want him to resign. I want him out. He has caused enough damage,” Murkowski told the paper. She continued:
“I think he should leave. He said he’s not going to show up. He’s not going to appear at the inauguration. He hasn’t been focused on what is going on with COVID.”
“He’s either been golfing or he’s been inside the Oval Office fuming and throwing every single person who has been loyal and faithful to him under the bus, starting with the vice president. He doesn’t want to stay there.”
“He only wants to stay there for the title. He only wants to stay there for his ego. He needs to get out. He needs to do the good thing, but I don’t think he’s capable of doing a good thing.”
She gets it. Why don’t most other Republicans?
Have U.S. Senators switched parties recently?
Yes, it’s happened. Jim Jeffords, who we mentioned earlier in the article, did it in 2001.
Also, in March 1995, after two years in office, Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado switched parties from Democratic to Republican in the wake of publicized disputes he had with the Colorado Democratic Party.