• WisPolitics

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

 10:05 PM 

Feingold, Johnson clash on minimum wage, campaign finance in second debate

MILWAUKEE -- Dem Russ Feingold on Tuesday knocked U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson for taking a $700,000 salary from his former plastics company, but voting against efforts to raise the minimum wage.

Johnson, R-Oshkosh, fired back that Feingold seems to have a problem with growing a successful business and said the Middleton Dem’s support of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would eliminate 6 million to 7 million jobs.

“That’s a nice little euphemism for a family not having a job to provide for his family,” Johnson said. He also said during the debate he would be open to looking at indexing for inflation future increases in the minimum wage.

Feingold said it was hard to believe a senator representing Wisconsin would have a record of voting against the minimum wage, saying people he has talked to across the state have called for an increase.

“You have voted consistently against raising it at all,” Feingold said. “That’s the record. That’s the fact. That’s what the people of Wisconsin need to know.”

The two clashed on college affordability, foreign policy and the confirmation of justices to the U.S. Supreme Court in their 90-minute debate at the Marquette University Law School that was hosted by Mike Gousha and organized by WISN-TV.

On the Supreme Court: Feingold charged Johnson is failing to meet his constitutional obligation by refusing to have a hearing and vote on President Barack Obama's Supreme Court pick.

But Johnson fired back, saying Republicans in the Senate have done their duty by advising Obama not to send them a nomination and withholding their consent. 

Feingold said Republicans have broken the "all-time record" for the length of time a nominee went without a hearing. He also accused Johnson of playing politics with the nomination process, saying his GOP rival has said the situation might be different had Mitt Romney won the 2012 election. 

"What he's pretending is it's somehow about the next election. But the Constitution doesn't create a three-year term for the president, it's a four-year term," Feingold said. 

Johnson said the court is functioning properly and that if justices deadlock 4-4 on a decision it shows partisanship on the court. When the court can’t muster a majority, the appeals court decision stands, Johnson said, dismissing the suggestion the court is facing a constitutional crisis.

Johnson said he would have voted against Obama's nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, "because I know he is hostile to Second Amendment rights."

Feingold warned that future justices could also be upheld.

"What's going to happen is Democrats will do it, too," Feingold said. "And you'll destroy the Supreme Court."

Johnson called the notion "absurd" and refuted Feingold's charge that he would block Hillary Clinton's nominees if she wins the election. 

"It's a totally different situation at that point in time," Johnson said. "The American people have spoken."

Johnson said judges the next president would nominate will impact First and Second amendment rights, which he said are "under assault."

He said while Feingold was in the Senate he voted for justices who voted against upholding an individual right to keep and bear arms. He said liberals "can't wait" to overturn that decision. 

Johnson said he won't vote for "superlegislators," while Feingold will "be voting for them all of the time."

Feingold shot back, saying he voted against one of President George W. Bush's nominations, but supported Bush nominee Chief Justice John Roberts.

Roberts voted to uphold the Second Amendment as an individual right, a position Feingold said he supported. 

On campaign donations: Johnson knocked his Dem rival for the creation of a political action committee after Feingold left office. Johnson called Progressives United “a little money making machine” that largely benefited his Dem rival while donating little to other candidates.

Johnson also accused Feingold of breaking a 1992 pledge to raise most of his money from Wisconsin donors, saying the majority of the support for his current campaign has come from outside the state.

Feingold defended the group, accusing Johnson of saying things he “knows not to be true.”

He said while Progressives United gave money to other candidates, its main purpose was to encourage backers to send donations directly to candidates. It also rallied supporters on issues like Social Security and net neutrality.

Feingold said Johnson hasn’t “lifted a finger to change the campaign finance system because he loves the way it is.” Feingold said he has more support from Wisconsinites than Johnson with 50,000 contributors making more than 110,000 contributions. Feingold said Johnson has touted 80,000 contributions from Wisconsin donors. Meanwhile, Feingold said outside groups have spent between $11 million and $12 million attacking him and supporting Johnson.

“The people of this state deserve to know where all this money supporting Sen. Johnson is coming from,” Feingold said. “It wouldn’t be pretty.”

Johnson also took aim at the campaign finance law dubbed McCain-Feingold, which he said was a “high-profile spectacular failure.” He charged Feingold used Progressives United to create a donor list he then used to raise money from outside Wisconsin.

"I think he’s got a lot of plans, but they simple don’t work,” Johnson said.

On the presidential nominees: As in their first debate on Friday, the two again clashed on their respective presidential nominees. 

Since that meeting, the GOP nominee has ramped up his claims the election is rigged against him, and Johnson was asked about those comments. He said there are legitimate questions about voter fraud. 

“I think with the bias of the media, the deck is certainly stacked against him,” Johnson said, accusing the media of largely ignoring Clinton’s problems to focus on Trump’s. “But I don’t think the election is rigged.”

Feingold called Johnson an “excellent businessman,” but said there was no way he would have hired Trump to run his former plastics company because the GOP nominee is irresponsible and a “person you can’t deal with.”

While again saying Clinton has been trustworthy in his past dealings with her while in the Senate and working for the State Department, Feingold said he also has disagreed with Clinton on a number of issues. That includes the decision to invade Iraq and at times on campaign finance reform.

Feingold also said Clinton has regrets on how she handled some things such as her use of private email while secretary of State.

“She’s not perfect,” Feingold said. “But she’s so much better than Donald Trump, who frankly I think would destabilize the world.”

Johnson questioned how Feingold could support Clinton considering her past controversies, such as the Americans killed in the Benghazi attack. He also said those looking to maintain the status quo should support his Dem rival and Clinton.

“I think the American people are looking for change,” Johnson said. “Our nominee is a change agent. I’m a change agent.”

On student loan debt: Johnson called Feingold “exhibit A” on why college is so expensive, saying he was paid almost $8,000 per lecture at Stanford University. He said the federal government poured money into colleges, and that had the unintended consequence of making secondary education less affordable as a spending boom ensued.

He called for using technology to move away from a “19th century model,” utilizing things like online classes and a certification approach to education rather than one based on obtaining a degree.

Feingold seized on that to bring up past Johnson comments that he said show the GOP incumbent wants to do away with professors and have students learn about the Civil War through Ken Burns’ documentary.

Johnson shot back there wasn’t enough time to “refute all the falsehoods” Feingold was offering up.

Feingold, meanwhile, said Johnson was purposely refusing to acknowledge the Middleton Dem also taught at Marquette and accused his GOP rival of demeaning the work professors did. He also said Johnson was playing a game by distorting how he was paid.

“That’s what I was doing, teaching,” Feingold said. “Sen. Johnson demeans higher education. He demeans the professors. He’s pretending what they do isn’t real work, and I think he should be ashamed.”

On opioid abuse: Feingold said Johnson voted against a bipartisan amendment that would have provided $622 million toward fighting addiction to opioids.

"He voted it down and said 'we can't just throw money at the problem,'" Feingold said.

Johnson said funding was provided in the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which he supported.

"This is actually one of the more disgusting, false attacks that Senator Feingold has lodged against me in his negative campaign," Johnson said, noting his nephew died of Fentanyl abuse in January.

He said his committee has held multiple hearings and round tables on the subject.

"I've been active; I understand what an enormous challenge this is," Johnson said.

Watch the debate:

-- By David Wise

Editor's note: This story has been updated with more details from the debate.

Photo by Mike Gryniewicz, Marquette Law School 

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