In an interview on Tuesday, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski emerged as a potential headache for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in his stated intention to run a sham impeachment trial for Donald Trump. Murkowski offered real, if muted, criticism of McConnell, saying she was "disturbed" by McConnell's remarks that he is coordinating with the White House on the trial.
"In fairness, when I heard that I was disturbed," Murkowski told Anchorage’s NBC affiliate, KTUU. “To me it means that we have to take that step back from being hand in glove with the defense, and so I heard what leader McConnell had said, I happened to think that that has further confused the process." She's at least talking like one of what the senators are supposed to be—impartial jurors. "For me to prejudge and say there's nothing there or on the other hand, he should be impeached yesterday, that's wrong, in my view, that's wrong."
She's also critical of the House process, saying that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rushed the process when she made it "very clear, very direct that her goal was to get this done before Christmas." Faced with the White House's refusal to make witnesses such as acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton available, Murkowski said the House should have gone to court. But instead, she says, that will be up to the Senate. "How we will deal with witnesses remains to be seen," Murkowski said.
The direct criticism, even as mild as it is, of McConnell is a new thing, and very real coming from Murkowski, since she's the one Republican who tends to actually buck McConnell and to do it without a lot of public grandstanding. On both her vote against repealing the Affordable Care Act and her vote opposing the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, she was pretty quiet. That's compared to the colleague she's most frequently compared to, Sen. Susan Collins. The Maine Republican gave interview after interview in both instances, making a public spectacle of her "concerns."
Murkowski's usual reticence makes these remarks more of a problem for McConnell. He's being called out by one of his own, and one who has a history of bucking him. While she often does have enough cover to vote in opposition to him because her vote won't make a difference, she's also the one senator who really isn't afraid of him. Nor is she really afraid of losing her next reelection campaign. She famously won reelection in 2010 as a write-in. Her staking out a position could give cover to Collins, Mitt Romney, and some of the senators who really do have to worry about reelection in 2020 to argue for a real trial. Which McConnell can definitely ignore, but now he's not going to get away with it without real scrutiny.