WASHINGTON — Her fellow Republicans held off Wednesday from punishing Sen. Lisa Murkowski, allowing her to keep her post as the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee even though they're unhappy she's still in the Alaska Senate race as a write-in candidate.
The full Senate Republican conference met Wednesday afternoon in a closed-door session to decide her fate. Murkowski, who has remained in Alaska to campaign, was not at the meeting. Republicans didn't vote on the matter; instead, they decided not to take any action and allowed Murkowski to remain as the top Republican on the committee for now.
They did, however, find a replacement for her within the Republican leadership ranks: Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. Murkowski resigned Friday from her No. 5 spot within the Republican conference when she announced she would take on Republican Joe Miller and Democrat Scott McAdams in a write-in campaign to hold onto the Senate seat.
"We've done what we need to do and we've decided not to do more," said Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. He continues to consider Murkowski a member of the GOP conference.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told reporters that it was "a matter of good taste." The Senate is close to wrapping up its business until the Nov. 2 election, and the Energy Committee doesn't have an ambitious agenda for the rest of the year.
Also, although Murkowski has launched a write-in bid, she remains a Republican with friendly ties to her colleagues in the Senate.
"I think that we all consider her a friend. I certainly do," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, calling her colleagues' decision not to seek any additional sanction "the right result," especially since Murkowski decided on her own to leave her leadership position.
Regardless, there's considerable pressure for Murkowski and other GOP incumbents who've lost to tea party-backed candidates to get behind their former opponents and support the Republican ticket on Nov. 2. Hutchison, who lost the Republican gubernatorial primary to Texas Gov. Rick Perry earlier this year and later endorsed him for governor, echoed the opinion of many Republicans exiting Wednesday's meeting: They like Murkowski but are backing Joe Miller, the primary winner, for the Senate seat.
"That's not to say anything about the race that's being run right now," Hutchison said. "We support the Republican candidate."
Murkowski had a one-sentence statement in response to her colleagues' Wednesday afternoon maneuvers: “I look forward to continuing to serve as the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.”
Barrasso will take Murkowksi's place as the vice chairman of the Senate Republican conference, where she had been the highest-ranking woman in Senate Republican leadership.
Murkowski's top spot on the Energy Committee was of utmost importance to the economic interests of Alaskans and one of her top achievements in the past several years. Murkowski's swift ascent within the GOP leadership ranks accompanied her ascent on the Energy Committee, as well as a highly sought position on the Appropriations Committee.