The U.S. Senate took votes last week on several high-profile issues, from reforming the scandal-plagued Department of Veterans Affairs to grappling with the wave of unaccompanied children arriving at the Mexican border.
The issues have played into the race between the three major candidates in the Aug. 19 Republican Party primary, the winner of which will face Democrat Mark Begich in the November general election. So we thought we'd ask all four candidates where they stand.
We picked three key votes -- plus a procedural measure, for variety -- and asked Alaska's two senators to explain their decision on each. We also posed hypothetical versions to the three major Republican candidates: Joe Miller, Dan Sullivan, and Mead Treadwell. Their responses below were edited for length if they were longer than our 50-word limit. Begich's answers come from his campaign, not his official office.
Vote 252. A yes vote on this procedural question would have moved forward a $2.7 billion emergency spending bill to address the migrant crisis on the Mexican border and also included money for Israeli missile defense and fighting wildfires.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski: No. "This emergency supplemental bill to address the border crisis had no opportunity for amendments. While not quite a blank check, it mostly throws money at a problem without addressing the root causes or dealing with any real reforms when thoughtful proposals from (other senators) deserved debate and an opportunity for a vote."
Sen. Mark Begich: Yes. "Sen. Begich voted to open debate on emergency funding for our southern border to find ways to secure our border. Along with Sen. Murkowski and Rep. Don Young, Begich supports efforts to pass a comprehensive immigration reform plan."
Joe Miller: No. "The current border crisis is a result of President Barack Obama's lawlessness, and the Democrats refused to address this central issue. I will not give the president another blank check to continue his assault on our Constitution. Sen. Ted Cruz is right: No more funding until Obama submits to his constitutional limits."
Dan Sullivan: No. "I would have voted no on moving the $3.5 billion immigration funding bill because the legislation did nothing to stop the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. First and foremost, we must secure the borders. Unfortunately, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid once again did not allow any amendments to try to improve this bill."
Mead Treadwell: No. "I will always support Israel, our most steadfast ally and a beacon of democracy. But this appropriations bill appears to be a cynical political move by Harry Reid and Barack Obama to push their ineffective border package through Congress. Only 7 percent of this bill would go to Israel, and there is little it could do immediately to help."
Vote 254. A yes vote was in favor of a $17 billion bill that would pay to hire staff at the Department of Veterans Affairs and to cover costs of veterans treated by providers other than the department.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski: Yes. "This bill represents a critical beginning to reforming the VA, but it is only a first step. No amendments were considered that would help this bill better suit Alaska's needs, which remain unique in the nationwide VA system. I am also concerned that the solutions contained in the bill's fine print could create new gaps in health care delivery."
Sen. Mark Begich: Yes. "Sen. Begich believes we need to continue to improve the care and services our veterans have earned and deserve. The legislation contains components of Begich's Heroes Health Card -- currently implemented in Alaska, it allows veterans to receive care from local facilities without traveling to the VA in Anchorage or Seattle."
Joe Miller: Yes. "I am a veteran with significant hearing loss from my combat service and have received medical care from the VA. Efforts to increase veterans' access to care are long overdue given the constitutional mandate for the federal government to provide such services."
Dan Sullivan: Yes. "I have been focused from day one on the critical importance of protecting our veterans. We need adequate funding, more flexible services, and long-term structural change if we're going to honor our sacred trust with our veterans. This bill is a step in that direction."
Mead Treadwell: Yes. "I called on Mark Begich to support VA accountability legislation and I am glad that this new bill will help make that possible. Moreover, in a large state like Alaska, it's important that this bill allows veterans to use private hospitals and clinics when they are far away from a VA clinic."
Highway Trust Fund
Sen. Lisa Murkowski: Yes. Declined to respond.
Sen. Mark Begich: Yes. "Failing to pass this bill would jeopardize road improvement and construction projects in Alaska, risking jobs during Alaska's short construction season. Alaska's roads are big business to the tourism industry, to 18-wheelers and to the Alaska family on a dipnetting trip. Alaska's need for new and improved infrastructure can't be ignored."
Joe Miller: No. "Congress's spending addiction is intergenerational theft, stealing opportunity from our children and grandchildren. There should be no more bailouts of the Highway Trust Fund without concessions on structural reform. This is understood by reformers like senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Tom Coburn and Rand Paul, who all voted against this bill."
Dan Sullivan: Yes. "First, this bill does not raise taxes. Second, the Highway Trust Fund was going to run out of money in August, meaning Alaska -- which is a young state from an infrastructure standpoint -- would not have gotten the funding necessary to complete critical infrastructure projects during our short construction season."
Mead Treadwell: Yes. "Highways are critical to Alaska's economy and our quality of life. Currently, many communities in America's largest state are still extremely isolated. I have always supported keeping the Highway Trust Fund solvent, but the fund should not spend more than it takes in, and I am disappointed that the funding measure brought to the floor was more costly than necessary."
Federal judicial appointment
Sen. Lisa Murkowski: Yes. "Sen. Murkowski respects the judicial nomination process and supports an up or down vote for a nominee unless there are extraordinary circumstances or factors to consider."
Sen. Mark Begich: Yes. "A constitutional role of the U.S. Senate is to advise and consent on nominations. Sens. Begich and Murkowski vote together on judicial nominees nearly 90 percent of the time in 2014 -- a trend that proves Alaska has a strong team that works together."
Joe Miller: No. "This nomination would not have gone forward without the Democrats' decision to exercise the so-called 'nuclear option.' The requirement to obtain agreement from 60 senators provided a check against Obama's abuse of executive power. Additionally, it limited the appointment of activist judges, who reject constitutional limits."
Dan Sullivan: No. "Last winter, the Democrats took a new step towards ruling the Senate as a dictatorship when they eliminated the cloture vote as it pertains to nominees. Having the ability to take a longer look at nominees is important when you have an administration that continually ignores Alaska -- a prime example being the need for a road in King Cove."
Mead Treadwell: No. "Based on principles of judicial restraint and adherence to the Constitution, I would not support Ms. Pryor's nomination to the 11th Circuit Court. Federal overreach needs to be rolled back, not rubber stamped. I strongly oppose liberal activist judges whose decisions trample on the 10th Amendment and states' rights, and I agree with the Republican opposition to Ms. Pryor's nomination."