GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) – Democrat Russ Feingold joined the Action 2 News morning team live in studio Wednesday morning to discuss the U.S. Senate race.
Feingold is challenging Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who defeated him in 2010 after Feingold held the seat for 18 years.
Action 2 News spoke with Sen. Johnson on Friday and asked Feingold the same questions on Wednesday. Here’s how the candidates’ answers differed:
Question: Why do you think you should represent Wisconsin in the U.S. Senate over your opponent?
Johnson: I was operating in the private sector. I helped start, build and grow a successful Wisconsin business, employing hundreds of Wisconsin workers, and then when I stepped out to play citizen legislator, I’ve gotten real results. Sen. Feingold was never a chairman of a full standing committee of the Senate. I’m chairman of Homeland Security in just my fifth year, getting real results. The approach is going to be completely different as well. I want to make sure Wisconsinites can keep more of their hard-earned money. I want to limit the federal government. I want to limit its control and influence in our lives. Sen. Feingold — I know how grow a business. I know how to grow an economy. He knows how to grow government. He’s going to — as he has a record of 270 times, he voted in favor of tax increases. He’s going to want to take more of Wisconsinites hard-earned money, and he’s going to grow government, and promoting these big government programs that simply don’t work, like Obamacare. I mean an utter failure.
Feingold: If you listen to the working people in this state, what they want is an increase in the minimum wage, which has been stuck at $7.25. Sen. Johnson doesn’t even think there should be a minimum wage. They want at work to have an opportunity to have paid family leave if they have a child. He’s against that. I’m for it. If you talk to older people, they want to make sure that they can have lower costs for pharmaceutical medicines, which is a terrible, scary thing for people. Overall, we have a real plan to do something about jobs. He said he’s a manufacturer, but what are you going to actually do? We’ve got to do something about the roads in this state. We’ve got to do something about the fact that up to 1,000,000 people in this state don’t have access to high-speed internet. He hasn’t really acted on that. You have to actually do the job, not just talk about how you’re going to create jobs.
Question: In the past six years, a lot of questions have been raised about the care of veterans at VA facilities, including in Wisconsin. What have you done, or what will you do, to improve veterans care?
Johnson: As soon as I found out about the problems in Tomah, in January 2015, I took immediate action. Because I’m chairman of that committee, I was able to start an investigation immediately. In three months, we uncovered more than the Office of Inspector General did in three years. In its investigation, of course they buried that report, which they shouldn’t have done. We’ve actually held people accountable. The [Tomah VA] doctor they called “candyman” his nurse practitioner, they’re gone. They’ve been terminated. That’s almost unheard of in government. The executive director who turned a blind eye — also terminated — and the inspector general who not only that report, but he had 140 inspections and investigations in which he hid those reports. He retired under the pressure from our committee. The only way we’re going to do this is through greater transparency and more investigations, more inspections. As chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, that’s certainly what I’m dedicated to do.
We’ve seen the testimony of the union heads who were repeatedly going to their Democrat members of Congress in their testimony. They never talked to Republicans back then. They were talking to and providing letters to Senator Kohl, Senator Feingold, Representative Kind, Representative Obey. Nobody raised a red flag. I mean multiple times Senator Feingold’s office was apparently contacted. Why wasn’t anything done? I can’t answer that question for you. But as soon as I found out about it, I can only account for myself. As soon as I found out about it on January 25th, I took immediate action.
Feingold: The bottom line has to be make sure veterans not only get good health care but they get it in a timely manner. They get it close to where they live. This is the approach that I’ve taken in the past and that I will take in the future. Sen. Johnson clearly doesn’t like the VA system. He says it’s a failure. But when I talk to veterans, and I ask them spontaneously, what do you think about the VA? They say, well we really like it, but it can always be improved. But the only way it can be improved is by committing ourselves to the VA. Sadly, when these issues came up, Sen. Johnson dropped the ball. He had not acted on this for quite some time with regard to Tomah. It’s good that he’s trying to work on it now. Certainly we should all work on it. But you have to stay committed to veterans throughout your Senate term, not just when something comes up.
[Sen. Johnson’s allegations about me are] completely false, and he knows it. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, PolitiFact said there’s no evidence that we ever got any such memo. It’s just not true, and sad because that’s what politicians do sometimes when they’re finding themselves in a little bit of difficulty running for re-election. He’s the one that actually dropped the ball and blamed it on his staff. He’s trying to blame it on something that happened five years ago? This happened under his watch.
Question: Let’s fast forward in this election. Sen. Johnson, if Hillary Clinton is elected president and you win the election for U.S. Senate, how would you work with the new president? Mr. Feingold, if Donald Trump is elected and you win the election for U.S. Senate, how would you work with him?
Johnson: It’s not highly publicized, but as chairman of Homeland Security, I’ve gotten real results by bringing that outsider approach. I’ve actually accomplished something in my life, over 31 years in the private sector, so I know how to get things done. As chairman of the committee, using the approach of trying to find areas of agreement, we passed 83 pieces of legislation in my committee. Twenty-eight have been signed into law. Most of those things are bipartisan pieces of legislation. They don’t grow government. They identify a problem, like we’re talking about the VA, and they pass a piece of bipartisan legislation and make government a little more efficient. A little more effective, a little more accountable, so I have a real record of that. I’ve got a real track record in a very short period of time as Wisconsin’s United States Senator of getting real results. Again, you do it not by being a partisan, not by exploiting differences, but by working real hard to try to find those areas of agreement to get real results.
Feingold: First thing I’m going to say is it’s not going to happen that way. But if it did, every American, particularly people who have served in office, have a responsibility to do the best they can to work with the president. Whoever the president is, I’m going to try to support whenever I can. I’m very confident it’s going to be Hillary Clinton. But I would always cooperate when I can. I don’t believe in trying to destroy somebody’s presidency from the beginning, and I would never be a party to that.