Ron Johnson comes under heavy fire from home-state colleague
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) is leading the charge against Sen. Ron Johnson, the Senate’s most vulnerable Republican incumbent and a fellow Wisconsin senator, accusing him of being out of step with the rest of the state, particularly on the issue of abortion.
With future control of the 50-50 Senate at stake, Baldwin is jettisoning the tradition of detente between home-state colleagues, ripping the Republican this week for voting against advancing a motion to keep the government from shutting down.
“I want to highlight one thing in particular because my Senate colleague from Wisconsin last night voted against moving forward to fund the government, keep the government open and avoid a needless government shutdown,” Baldwin told reporters.
Baldwin then piled on by highlighting past statements by Johnson on Medicare and Social Security, which she argued provide plenty of evidence that her colleague wants to gut those popular programs.
“Senate Republicans like my counterpart from Wisconsin have proposed sunsetting, cutting and putting Medicare and Social Security on the chopping block with every budget every year,” she said.
She concluded by asserting that Johnson wants to turn back the clock to 1849 when it comes to a woman’s right to an abortion.
Baldwin lumped Johnson together with Republicans in her home state who have “enabled and continue to support taking women back to 1849 … and keeping them there without the right and freedom to make their own personal choices about their body, their health and their family.”
Baldwin’s verbal barrage was remarkable because home-state Senate colleagues, even if they’re in different parties, traditionally maintain a political truce so that bruised personal feelings don’t make it tougher for them to work together.
For example, Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with Democrats, didn’t campaign against Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) when she was a top target in the 2020 election.
Ohio Sens. Rob Portman (R) and Sherrod Brown (D) and West Virginia Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R) and Joe Manchin (D) haven’t savaged each other on the campaign trail either.
Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) attended rallies for his home-state colleague Sen. Jon Tester’s (D-Mont.) Republican opponent in 2018, but he didn’t criticize Tester in the same pointed manner as Baldwin did Johnson this week.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said he campaigned for Senate Democratic candidate Katie McGinty when she ran against his colleague Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) in 2016 but emphasized he was careful to focus on McGinty’s talents and qualifications instead of trashing Toomey.
Baldwin, by contrast, coolly delivered her evisceration of Johnson standing right outside the Senate chamber in the historic Ohio clock corridor at a Senate Democratic leadership press conference, while Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) stood right behind her.
The Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion rights decision, earlier this year is a hot button issue across the country and in Wisconsin specifically, where a loss by Johnson would make it tough for the GOP to claw back a Senate majority.
After the ruling, Wisconsin reverted back to an 1849 statute that outlaws abortions even in cases of rape or incest. Wisconsin’s Democratic governor, Tony Evers, announced last week that he is calling for a special session of the state legislature in an attempt to repeal the 173-year-old law.
“The abortion ban in Wisconsin that Sen. Johnson supports is threatening the health and safety of women across my state with delayed and denied care,” Baldwin said. “Let me just close by saying whether it’s Medicare, Social Security, health care, prescription drugs, reproductive health care, we are making it clear to the American people who is on their side and who isn’t.”
Johnson on Thursday said he wasn’t surprised that Baldwin slammed him at a press conference in the Capitol and blamed her for leaking to The New York Times his text messages to her expressing initial interest in a bill to protect same-sex marriage.
“Certainly when she released our texts between two senators, that certainly was a breach [of decorum]. It just shows a lack of integrity,” he said.
The Times reported that Johnson asked Baldwin not to let other Democrats “add anything obnoxious” to the marriage equality bill and texted her a thumbs up emoji when Baldwin said she would try not to do anything to jeopardize the bill’s passage.
Baldwin initiated the text exchange to write that she was thrilled after hearing that Johnson told reporters that he would not oppose a same-sex marriage bill.
He later said, however, that he would not support the marriage equality bill that Baldwin negotiated with a group of Senate GOP colleagues because he decided that he didn’t like how it was drafted after closer review.
Johnson described his reelection campaign as a battle “versus lies, distortions, character assassination, the politics of personal destruction.”
But Johnson insisted the bad blood between he and Baldwin doesn’t affect their ability to work together — albeit at an arms’ length — on issues important to Wisconsin, such as judicial nominees.
“I sold plastics for 30 years. I’m used to reaction, I have a very thick skin,” he said. “What I’ve told the folks in Wisconsin is I actually want to unify and heal this nation. That’s a goal that President Biden laid out, I think he’s done the exact opposite.”
While riding an elevator up to the Capitol’s second floor with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), he noted that he worked with her to introduce legislation to reauthorize the opportunity scholarship program in Washington, D.C. And he said he helped pass more than 100 bipartisan and nonpartisan laws as the former chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.
Johnson said any hostility in the relationship with Baldwin is mostly one-sided and directed at himself.
“I always try to be the adult in the room and try to turn the other cheek,” he said.
Baldwin told The Hill Thursday that her comments about Johnson were not a breach of Senate collegiality because they were focused on the issues and not personal attacks.
“I was talking about issues and the positions he’s taken particularly on Medicare and Social Security and Roe and I think home-state senators do that, you know, talk about how they’re different or the same on a variety of issues,” she said.
Baldwin’s and Johnson’s fraught relationship experienced a moment of harmony in November after the Waukesha Christmas parade attack, when a man rammed dozens of people with his sports utility vehicle.
The Wisconsin senators released a rare joint statement urging outside groups not to “exploit the tragedy … for their own political purposes.”
But relations deteriorated a few months later when Johnson blocked Milwaukee County Circuit Judge William Pocan’s nomination to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.
Baldwin recommended Pocan to fill a vacancy on the court but Johnson refused to let him move, citing the Waukesha tragedy, which he said was “the direct result of soft on crime low bail policies and court orders.”
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel later reported that Pocan didn’t have anything to do with the defendant in the Waukesha case, who was set free in an unrelated domestic violence case on $1,000 bail.