- Associated Press - Monday, February 29, 2016

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan said Monday that Alaska is an area of strategic importance to the country, given its foothold in the Arctic and production of oil, seafood and other resources.

In an address to state lawmakers, he spoke about the state’s role in improving its own fiscal standing and that of the United States.

He also highlighted several issues facing Alaska, including long-standing problems with domestic violence and sexual abuse, a veterans’ health care system that he said is not working and rising number of opioid addicts.

While Sullivan said he’s working to address the issues, his top priority has been advocating for defense policies that boost the state’s military capability. That spending, he said, will bolster the nation’s defenses and enrich Alaska’s economy.

According to a report from the state’s congressional delegation, distributed to state legislators, the state plays a key role in the Arctic to counter the threat of Russian expansion, missile defense to counter the threat of nuclear proliferation in North Korea and a strong air force to face increasing Russian incursions.

After Sullivan’s address, Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, asked Sullivan about the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and how it has polarized Republican lawmakers and President Barack Obama over whom should select the next justice.

Sullivan fell in line with the rhetoric of others in his party who said that while the president has the authority to nominate a new justice Congress will use its authority to refuse to vote on that nominee. He said he is not on the judiciary committee but supports what its members are doing. Last week, Senate Republican leaders said they would refuse to hold a confirmation hearing, vote or meeting for any nominee Obama made.

Imagine if the country were nearing the end of eight years of a Republican presidency and Democrats held the majority in the Senate, Sullivan said. “Pretty sure the same thing would be happening right now,” he said.

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