• WisPolitics

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

 8:55 AM 

Feingold defends against GOP attacks over Tomah VA

Russ Feingold Tuesday slammed U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and his allies for suggesting the Wisconsin Dem failed to act in 2009 about concerns at the Tomah VA and linking him to the death five years later of a 35-year-old Marine being treated at the hospital.

The GOP attack has focused on a memo written by the union president at the VA hospital; the memo was marked as hand-delivered to Feingold and two fellow Wisconsin Dems.

Feingold again Tuesday said he didn't receive the memo and accused Johnson of having "made up" the suggestion that the Middleton Dem knew about the concerns of the prescription practices at the facility.

He also knocked Johnson, R-Oshkosh, on Tomah. Johnson has said his staff could have done more to address the concerns about opiate prescriptions following a report his staff didn't refer the complaints to leadership of a Senate committee that could have taken action. His staff referred them to aides on the committee, but no action was taken.

"Using a tragedy involving our fighting men and women as a way to try to get yourself re-elected is really kind of pathetic, and that's what's being done here," Feingold said at Marquette Law School as part of the "On the Issues" series with Mike Gousha.

Johnson campaign spokesman Brian Reisinger accused Feingold of playing the "blame game," saying Johnson took action once he personally learned of the problems.

"Ron is leading the only bipartisan investigation of what happened as chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and is working to pass legislation to protect whistleblowers who try to prevent tragedies like this from happening in the first place," Reisinger said.

Feingold also refuted the GOP suggestion he's changed since leaving the Senate.

That includes the former senator dropping a pledge made during his first Senate campaign in 1992 to raise the majority of his money from Wisconsin.

Feingold said when he made that promise, he didn't anticipate the U.S. Supreme Court "would take all of our campaign laws and throw them in the garbage can." He said allowing corporations, billionaires and Johnson to have a super PAC has changed the campaign finance landscape dramatically.

Still, he defended his fundraising, saying 90 percent of his contributions are $100 or less and he has received donations from all 72 counties. He also said he's still getting more donations from Wisconsin than Johnson.

"Ask yourself who is more Wisconsin?" Feingold said.

He also said he hasn't changed his integrity or honesty. Still, his experiences since leaving the Senate, such as teaching at Marquette and serving as a special envoy to Africa, have changed him for the better, Feingold said.

"I feel good about who I am at this point, but it's not exactly who I was previously," he said.

Feingold also said he didn't run for guv after losing his Senate race because "the people of this state told me to take a break, so I did."

Some Dems had hoped Feingold would take on Gov. Scott Walker in the 2012 recall or 2014. But Feingold said it was appropriate to take some time away with his family.

On other topics, Feingold:

*indicated he would support the Dem nominee whoever it is, while calling Bernie Sanders an honorable person and committed progressive.

Some Republicans have called for Feingold to say whether he supports Sanders or Hillary Clinton in the Dem primary. He did not side with either candidate, saying he would be comfortable with both.

*praised the president for keeping his "eye on the ball" in seeking to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

Republicans have criticized Feingold for his support of the deal the Obama administration negotiated with Iran. Feingold said it's still not certain the agreement will work, but it's looking like it will.

"The cement has been poured," Feingold said. "This can lead to the stopping of Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and that is very good."

Feingold also took a shot at Johnson, who has said he would support the U.S. invading territory held by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria with a multinational coalition.

Feingold said that approach wouldn't address other areas of the world where ISIS has a foothold or other threats.

"Invading our way to security is not going to work," Feingold said.

The Johnson campaign's response to Feingold's appearance at Marquette included a knock on his support for the Iran deal.

"The Iran deal exemplifies the dangerously weak national security record Senator Feingold developed during his 18 years in Washington, and his hypocrisy on special interest money," the campaign said.

The statement also recounted past knocks the Johnson campaign has thrown at Feingold.

Johnson is scheduled to participate in the "On the Issues" series Feb. 5.

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