In an in-depth interview with CNN's Dana Bash, Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins discussed the health care vote that ultimately sunk the GOP's effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which in part hinged on one major factor: their desire to protect Planned Parenthood funding. Collins told Bash that she felt it was "inconsistent with our Republican ideals" to support a repeal-bill that nominally supported people making their own health care choices but not allow one of those choices to be Planned Parenthood.
For Murkowski especially, defunding Planned Parenthood was something she was not going to accept. "I am committed to ensuring that important provisions of the ACA, such as covering those with pre-existing conditions, continued support for Medicaid expansion, coverage for dependents and no lifetime limits, and funding for Planned Parenthood remain intact," Murkowski wrote in a constituent letter Politico obtained back in June.
"I am voting for the people of Alaska," Murkowski said in the CNN interview, but she did say that she understands the pressure her Republican colleagues in the legislature felt to vote for the ACA repeal. In decamping, one risks "repercussion from party, a tweet from the president, backlash from your leadership," Murkowski said.
The two female senators as well as Sen. John McCain, who also broke ranks to vote against the health care repeal, were singled out by President Donald Trump in a tweet that claimed they "let the American people down."
According to Murkowski, the tweet came a day after a personal phone call with the president. "I will just say that the president and I had a very direct call," she told CNN. But she declined to make any further comments.
Prior to the health care vote, Murkowski also received a call from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who stressed how important the bill's passage was to President Trump. Zinke is now under a preliminary investigation exploring whether with that call he threatened the economic development of Alaska. Murkowski said though that she did not interpret that call as "threat" but that Zinke "was merely delivering a message."
"What he mentioned was that the president was very — that the health care bill was very important to the president," Murkowski said.
Collins also told Bash that she was "very happy that Lisa was literally sitting next to me" during the vote. Murkowski also echoed the support she felt from Collins' proximity: "To have that weight, that responsibility knowing that your vote really is that pivotal, it does help to know that there is another kindred soul close by."
The two senators have been hailed for their steadfast opposition to the ACA repeal effort. In early June, "Lisa gave a wonderful speech that day at the White House," Collins said of Murkowski. "And I remembered being so proud of you for saying directly to the president what your obligations were."