Offered as bonus material for the "We the People" collection, this full interview features Sen. Lisa Murkowski, (R) Alaska. The "We the People" videos are produced in collaboration with the U.S. Capitol Historical Society.
Bonus Material -- Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Full Interview)
Sen. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): I'm Lisa Murkowski. I am a United States senator from the state of Alaska.
I always tell people that I represent everyone in the state of Alaska. In fact, when I speak to students in elementary schools, I love to kind of give them a quiz. I say, "I'm your senator. What does that mean? Who-- who's my boss?" And I get a range of hands shooting up, "Oh, the president is your boss." "Nope." "Oh, the governor is your boss." "Nope." "Oh, the principal is your boss." I say, "You're getting closer." And then when I tell them, "All of you are my bosses," they go wild. And then I kind of lose control of the crowd. But it's a reminder to them that I work for every Alaskan, regardless of how young you are or how old you are. It doesn't make any difference whether you have voted for me, can't vote, or didn't vote for me. It doesn't make any difference really what your political affiliation is. I work for all Alaskans.
This is Article I, Section 9, in terms of where the legislative body rests in the three separate but equal branches of government. And I always remind people that they're separate, but they're equal. Because I think often times particularly in the minds of young people, it's the president is on top. And then legislative branches down below, and the judiciary is somewhere down there. But they're all equal. The legislative branch is equal with the judicial branch is equal with the executive branch. And so the legislative branch resides in Article I.
Well, one of the responsibilities as a senator is to advance legislation through the committee process. And so I am the chairman of the committee on energy and natural resources. I am the chairman on one of the important sub-committees within the appropriations committees, the interior branch. And so part of my day is filled up with committee meetings, not only those that I chair but those that I am a member of, for instance the Indian Affairs Committee or the Health Education Committee. So attending committee meetings, being part of that collaborative legislation building process is important.
But I also need to get my ideas from somewhere. Where do I get those ideas from? I get them from Alaskans. I get them from the people that I work for who come to me and say, "We have a problem in my village with regards to clean water or sanitation. How can you help us?" So it is-- it is a mix-- the legislative day for me or a business day for me is a mix of committee meetings and really working on legislation, but also so many, many constituent meetings where I have an opportunity to hear from Alaskans about their concerns, about their needs, and what it is that we can do to help facilitate that at the federal level.
In the Senate, it is really a very old-fashioned process in how we vote. When a vote is called, we will-- we will have the role read by a clerk. And she will go alphabetically down the list of names of the senators and call each name. And each senator will vote in person by either an ‘aye’ or a ‘nay.’ Now, in the House of Representatives, they have electronic voting machines. You literally put a card in and you press a button. We don't have any buttons. We don't have any cards. We have a clerk who goes down the role alphabetically calling the name of each senator. And we affirmatively, up or down, yay or nay to the clerk. It's interesting because as she or he checks that off, they do it with a pencil. So for instance if at the end of the vote I realize, "Hmm, maybe I didn't have all the information that I wanted and I've talked with colleagues. And I've got, gained a different perspective. I want to change my vote." Can I change my vote? If the vote hasn't been closed out, I can go back to the clerk and say, "I'm switching from an aye to a nay." And she literally takes the eraser on the end of the pencil and erases it, changes it. That becomes the official voting tally. So we use computers in the Senate to make things official at the end of the day with a record. But I think it is one of the traditions of the Senate that it is-- it is going down a list of names alphabetically, calling the names and an affirmative or a negative action by the by the respective senator.
If there's a tie in the United States Senate, the vice president is the one that breaks the tie. The vice president is actually known as the-- is literally that 51st senator, if you will, that additional senator. It is one of the official roles of the vice president is to act as the presiding-- the presiding officer of the Senate. And in the event of a tie, it will be broken by the vice president. It's interesting that some significant legislation has been broken by a vice president. The Trans-Alaska pipeline, which is very important to my state of Alaska, actually came about by a tie vote that was broken by Vice President Agnew at the time. A lotta people forget things like that.
This is a role that is unique to the United States Senate. And that is in the judicial confirmation process. The president is the one who will nominate judicial nominees, put these names forward to the Senate. And then it is up to the Senate to review these judicial nominees. And when I say review, it's not just taking a look at their backgrounds. But it's actually to provide-- to provide that consent then to the executive that this individual who has been nominated for a lifetime seat on the court has the consent of the legislative branch, has the consent of the Senate. And so this is a-- this is a process that I certainly take very, very seriously. Because it is unique to this body. Only the Senate takes up the judicial nominations. And so the due diligence that I believe that I have to exercise in understanding, "Does this individual have the judicial experience and background that is necessary? Does this individual have the temperament necessary to stand in this very important position and to maintain this very balance of fairness? Can they-- can they evaluate and weight with no bias?" Those are important considerations as we look to how we provide the consent. The advice part of it is perhaps a little more ambiguous I guess. But there is a role for the legislative branch, for those of us in the Senate, to provide good names to the White House, to the president for consideration for selection of judicial nominations. And each of us as senators will do that. We will advance names of individuals from our state for the vacancies on the courts to be considered by the president. And then those names will be vetted, reviewed, so that's the advice part of it. And the consent part, again, is what I've outlined in terms of our due diligence and then providing that to the White House.
I think it's important that young people know and understand our founding documents, the principles upon which our nation was founded. And you may think that, well, 250 years ago, a long time ago, how can that be relevant to us today? But when you think about those core principles of who we are as Americans and a freedom of association, a freedom of speech, a freedom of religious tolerance. These basic freedoms that were outlined centuries ago are still relevant to us today. And so understanding them I think is important. I think it's also very important to understand and appreciate the role of government at the various levels. And whether it is at your local, your state, or your federal level to know and understand how our government can be there to assist, to not be the end-all and be-all of our daily operations, but to insure that there are protections for us as individuals and for our families and providing for the security of our nation.