July 28 (UPI) -- The Trump administration walked an ethical line by using a "bag man" to threaten Alaska's energy over a healthcare vote, a leader in the U.S. House said.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, joined two other Republican leaders in voting against the so-called "skinny repeal" of the Affordable Care Act, the signature healthcare policy of former President Barack Obama. The measure, a last-ditch effort to overhaul Obamacare, failed with a 51-49 vote early Friday morning.
Ahead of the vote, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spoke with Murkowski and fellow Sen. Dan Sullivan, who voted in favor of the repeal, and threatened to block plans for more oil development in Alaska if they didn't stay on their side of the aisle in the repeal, various media outlets reported.
Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat and ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee, said Zinke's push was a low point for President Donald Trump and his administration in terms of ethical standards. Running the government, he said, means serving the people.
"It doesn't mean you serve the president as a bag man for his political vendettas," he said in a statement. "Threatening to punish your rivals as political blackmail is something we'd see from the Kremlin."
Before the vote, a group of 38 Republican Senators sent a letter to Zinke in support of a new five-year lease plan for offshore drilling.
"We support many of the steps the [Interior] Department has taken to strengthen and reinforce the United States' position as an energy dominant superpower," the letter read.
Offshore, Zinke's department issued a request last month for information for a five-year lease plan that covers 10 potential leases in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and one in the Cook Inlet off the southern coast of Alaska. In June, Hilcorp Alaska LLC placed a high bid of $3 million to tap Cook Inlet waters, a bid the federal government said was critical to U.S. interests.
A 2011 study from the U.S. Geological Survey put the reserve estimate at a mean 599 million barrels of oil and a mean 19 trillion cubic feet of natural gas for technically recoverable undiscovered resources onshore and in state waters that are part of the Cook Inlet.
Zinke's threat to Murkowski is ironic, given that the Trump administration has signaled it would include parts of Alaska above the Arctic Circle in its broader lease plan. The Washington Post reported Friday that Murkowski, the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, postponed some measures requested by the Interior Department.