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US Sen. Sullivan steers clear of health care controversy in speech to Alaska lawmakers

  • Author: Nathaniel Herz
  • Updated: December 2, 2017
  • Published February 24, 2017

JUNEAU — U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan delivered his annual speech to the Alaska Legislature on Friday without mentioning the Affordable Care Act or other key issues looming before Congress, like President Trump's executive action on immigration.

The half-hour address from Sullivan, a Republican, was a sharp departure from the one given Wednesday by his GOP colleague, Lisa Murkowski. Murkowski pledged to not support repeal of the expansion of the Medicaid program — a part of the broader health care law — unless asked by state leaders.

Some 29,000 Alaskans are now covered under the expansion.

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan delivers his annual speech to the Alaska Legislature on Friday. Sullivan, speaking in the House chambers, discussed jobs and the state’s economy but didn’t mention key issues facing Congress, including the fate of the Affordable Care Act. (Nathaniel Herz / Alaska Dispatch News)

Sullivan, responding to a question from a Democratic legislator after his speech, said he wants to ensure "comparable and continued coverage" for Medicaid expansion states. But, he added, "it's not going to be easy," citing potential political opposition to continuing coverage by lawmakers from states that haven't expanded the program.

Sullivan spent much of his speech touting his accomplishments in the past year and his plans for the next. He talked about how he helped secure $3 billion in infrastructure money for the state, held an opioid summit in the Mat-Su and worked to block a U.S. Army proposal to cut Alaska-based troops.

He outlined a vision of Alaska resource development under a Trump administration: oil companies working hand in hand with "federal agencies that want to help seize opportunities and not undermine them."

And with the 150th anniversary of the Alaska Purchase approaching, Sullivan closed with a reference to an 1867 speech by Charles Sumner, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, that touted the state's rich natural resources like gold, coal and minerals.

The speech came as 50 chanting demonstrators stood outside the Capitol waving signs condemning Trump and urging Sullivan to "save the ACA." Some of their signs referenced Sullivan's unwillingness to hold a public meeting with Juneau residents; some other members of Congress have held listening sessions during their current break.

John Sonin yells into a megaphone as part of a protest outside the Alaska Capitol on Friday. Protesters were asking for a public meeting with U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, who was giving a speech inside to the Legislature. (Nathaniel Herz / Alaska Dispatch News)

"Come see your constituents!" shouted one man, John Sonin, through a megaphone.

Sullivan said at a news conference after his speech that he was trying to focus on the economy and jobs, which he said were the "No. 1 question, by far" that he hears from Alaska residents and state lawmakers.

"You don't want to go on forever in terms of your speech to the Legislature," he said.

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