— -- After Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski was just one of two Republican senators to vote against proceeding to debate on a health care bill on Tuesday, she received a phone call from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke voicing President Donald Trump’s displeasure about her vote.
The call, first reported by the Alaska News Dispatch, was confirmed by Murkowski’s office to ABC News.
“This was a difficult conversation,” Murkowski later said in an interview with MSNBC. “What I told the president, what I have told the president since he was elected, was I'm here to help the people of my state.”
The Interior Department did not respond to multiple requests for comment from ABC News.
The Alaska News Dispatch report also alleged that Zinke placed a call to Alaska’s other senator, Dan Sullivan, and expressed the same message about Murkowski’s vote.
Sen. Sullivan’s office did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
Murkowski is the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which oversees the Interior Department and its funding.
Just this morning, the committee announced it would be postponing a meeting to consider nominees to both the Interior and Energy Departments.
When asked about the call at today’s press briefing, incoming White House press secretary Sarah Sanders deflected questions on the subject.
“I’m not going to speak about conversations between Cabinet members and other individuals that I wasn’t a part of and haven't had a chance to talk to either individual about,” Sanders said.
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, did not comment on Zinke’s call, but he defended Murkowski’s stance on the health care discussion.
“I understand there are plenty of moving parts in the health care discussion; however, the facts on the ground for Alaskans haven’t changed. We still face the highest health care costs in the nation. 187,000 Alaskans -- one-fourth of our population -- are covered by Medicaid, and nearly 35,000 of those have coverage thanks to Medicaid Expansion. My team and I will continue engaging with our congressional delegation to make sure Alaskans are protected,” Walker said in a statement.
Many pointed to the call as a potential abuse of power on the part of Zinke if it was meant to threaten political retribution against Murkowski.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, announced his intention to ask for a formal investigation of the incident.
“Running a department of the federal government means you serve the people as a protector of their rights and freedoms,” Grijalva said in a statement. “It doesn’t mean you serve the president as a bag man for his political vendettas.”
Richard Painter, an ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush White House, tweeted that officials from the Interior and Energy Departments should be asked to testify before Congress on the matter.