Republicans Launch Early Attack on Tammy Baldwin

The party is pushing to make the Tomah VA scandal a key issue in the Wisconsin Democrat’s reelection.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin in the spin room after a Democratic presidential primary debate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2016
AP Photo/Tom Lynn
Kimberly Railey
Add to Briefcase
Kimberly Railey
March 12, 2017, 8 p.m.

One of the ugli­est is­sues that roiled Wis­con­sin’s Sen­ate race last year will soon pop up again in Demo­crat­ic Sen. Tammy Bald­win’s reelec­tion.

Wis­con­sin Re­pub­lic­ans this week will launch their first sus­tained at­tack against Bald­win on the is­sue of the Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Med­ic­al Cen­ter in Tomah, Wis­con­sin, ac­cus­ing her of fail­ing to ad­dress prob­lems at the fa­cil­ity. The ef­fort in­cludes di­git­al ads blast­ing the sen­at­or and Demo­crats, a sur­rog­ate cam­paign with elec­ted of­fi­cials in the state who are vet­er­ans, and a co­ordin­ated push of let­ters to the ed­it­or, ac­cord­ing to a Re­pub­lic­an fa­mil­i­ar with the plans.

The tac­tic comes after the Tomah VA played a key role in Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Ron John­son’s reelec­tion last cycle, when out­side groups waged a vi­cious battle over the way both John­son and his Demo­crat­ic op­pon­ent, former Sen. Russ Fein­gold, handled is­sues there. John­son won the race, in the most sur­pris­ing Sen­ate up­set of the cycle.

Re­pub­lic­ans have long pegged Bald­win, a first-term sen­at­or, as a top tar­get. But GOP strategists said they be­lieve Pres­id­ent Trump’s sur­pris­ing vic­tory in the state, along with two suc­cess­ful midterm elec­tions there, have en­hanced their pro­spects even with no de­clared can­did­ate at this point.

The party could face a crowded and di­vis­ive race to take on Bald­win, fol­low­ing the de­cision of Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Sean Duffy, a lead­ing po­ten­tial can­did­ate, to pass on a Sen­ate bid last month. Mul­tiple Re­pub­lic­ans—busi­ness­man Kev­in Nich­olson, state Sen. Leah Vuk­mir, state Rep. Dale Kooy­enga, state Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Scott Fitzger­ald, and 2012 can­did­ate Eric Hov­de—are now openly con­sid­er­ing bids, a situ­ation Re­pub­lic­ans hoped to avoid after a messy GOP fight in 2012 hobbled their nom­in­ee’s chances against Bald­win.

One key dif­fer­ence between the Tomah at­tacks of this cycle and last, Re­pub­lic­ans noted, is that their nom­in­ee likely can­not be eas­ily tied to wrong­do­ing at the fa­cil­ity, which was plagued by a paink­iller-ab­use scan­dal. And as vet­er­ans, Fitzger­ald, Nich­olson, and Kooy­enga could of­fer a unique per­spect­ive.

Bald­win has come un­der scru­tiny in the past for her hand­ling of prob­lems at Tomah. In 2015, it was re­por­ted that the sen­at­or sat on an in­spec­tion re­port de­tail­ing prob­lems there. Bald­win ac­know­ledged that mis­takes were made and fired a top state staffer over the is­sue, prompt­ing eth­ics com­plaints. The Sen­ate eth­ics pan­el dis­missed all of them.

“She can try to avoid ac­count­ab­il­ity all she wants, but Wis­con­sin voters have shown they’re fed up with lib­er­al Wash­ing­ton in­siders who re­fuse to chal­lenge the status quo and have been part of the prob­lem for dec­ades,” Wis­con­sin Re­pub­lic­an Party spokes­man Alec Zi­m­mer­man said.

Bald­win al­lies con­ten­ded that par­tis­an at­tacks over the Tomah VA will back­fire, point­ing to the is­sue’s sens­it­iv­ity. Deaths have been tied to the over­prescrib­ing of paink­illers at the cen­ter, where sev­er­al top lead­ers have since been ous­ted.

Wis­con­sin Demo­crats also ar­gued that Bald­win has act­ively taken steps to com­bat the cen­ter’s prob­lems, in­clud­ing her work on opi­ate-safety le­gis­la­tion signed in­to law last year.

“Sen­at­or Bald­win has not let these polit­ic­al at­tacks dis­tract from the im­port­ant work she has done work­ing with Wis­con­sin vet­er­ans and their fam­il­ies to bring re­form to the VA,” Bald­win spokes­man Scott Spect­or said.

What We're Following See More »
NOT WITH RUSSIANS
Nunes: Incidental Surveillance Was Collected On Trump Transition
3 hours ago
BREAKING

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said Wednesday "that on numerous occasions, the intelligence community collected information on U.S. individuals involved in the Trump transition." Nunes also said that information was widely disseminated within the intelligence community even though it had "little or no apparent foreign intelligence value." Nunes did not say who brought the information to his attention, though he did make sure to clarify that it did not come from communications with Russia, meaning Trump aides were speaking with other foreign nationals under U.S. surveillance.

Source:
LAST-MINUTE WHIPPING
Ryan Asks to Meet with Recalcitrant Republicans Tonight
3 hours ago
THE LATEST
SUPPORTS UPDATING OVERTIME RULES
Acosta Says He’ll Follow Trump on Fiduciary Rule
5 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Labor Secretary nominee Alexander Acosta said he'd support President Trump's executive order calling on the department to review Obama-era regulations like the fiduciary rule, requiring financial advisers to act in the best interests of their clients. But on the topic of overtime rules, he called it "unfortunate that rules involving dollar values can go more than a decade without adjusting."

Source:
REQUESTS DOCUMENTS FROM WHITE HOUSE
House Oversight Committee Gets Involved on Flynn
9 hours ago
THE LATEST
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, JOB TRAINING AT ISSUE
GOP Governors Push Back on White House Budget
9 hours ago
THE LATEST

As the White House presses "for bone-deep cuts to the federal budget, Republican governors have rapidly emerged as an influential bloc of opposition. They have complained to the White House about reductions they see as harmful or arbitrary, and they plan to pressure members of Congress from their states to oppose them." Of particular concern to them: job-training programs and regional economic development initiatives.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login