Ron Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) is grinding the gears of the Senate to a halt as it seeks to move forward with President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill. 

It is just the latest step by Johnson, who is up for reelection in a state narrowly won by Biden, to burnish his Trump credentials, whether that’s by repeating unfounded theories about the Jan. 6 attack or becoming the face of GOP opposition to the coronavirus bill that is broadly popular even among Republicans. 

Johnson is taking a two-pronged approach to his hardball tactics: First, he’s forcing the Senate clerks to read the entire piece of legislation, a delaying tactic that irritated Democrats and even some Republicans. Then, he wants Republicans to sign up for shifts so they could potentially force hundreds of amendment votes. 

Johnson’s delaying tactics won’t sink the bill, and some colleagues have been puzzled over what his endgame is. 

“I’m less enthused by the point being made, because I’m not sure it really makes a point. It doesn’t punish anybody except members of the staff … and pretty much all 100 senators,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D). 

He added that Johnson has the right to force the bill to be read, but “I fail to see the strategic value.” 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), gave the same caveat, before adding: “I don’t think it particularly moves the ball forward.” 

“My goal is to get on the bill and showcase what’s wrong with it from our point of view, that’s the whole point of vote-a-rama for me,” Graham said. 

Johnson’s move delays the vote-for-all, a process where senators will be able to force amendment votes, and the subsequent final passage of the bill.  

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), asked if he understood the strategy behind Johnson’s plan, added: “I don’t and … my Republican colleagues don’t either.” 

Some Republicans privately said most Americans aren’t going to be tuning in to hours of C-SPAN footage to listen to a Senate floor staffer read the Democratic bill word for word. 

“Of course they’re not,” said one GOP senator, asked about the potential that constituents will be watching the floor reading to learn about the bill. 

Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, defended Johnson’s ability to force the reading, but noted that Republicans are also eager to get to the debate so they can showcase their opposition to the Democratic bill. 

“I think our goal would be to have to be able to use 20 hours so our members can get up and talk. While they’re reading the bill you don’t get a chance to do that,” Thune said. “It’s an attempt, clearly, to slow things down. We’ll see whether or not it all gets read.” 

Johnson says he is forcing the reading to give the American people more time to get acquainted with the 628-page bill that was formally unveiled on Thursday afternoon, and to let Republicans craft amendments. 

“I’m trying to actually return the Senate to [a] more deliberative body when it relates to a $1.9 trillion spending package,” Johnson said. “All I’m trying to do is make this a more deliberative process. You know obviously shine a light.” 

The plan is likely to delay final passage of the coronavirus bill into the weekend, an idea floated by Johnson during the GOP lunch on Tuesday. In addition to forcing the text of the bill to be read, Johnson is also working to set up shifts among his caucus to try to get votes on potentially hundreds of amendments. 

It’s hardly the first time Johnson has found himself in the middle of controversy in recent weeks, as he at times appears to be positioning himself as the most pro-Trump member of the Senate. 

In February, Johnson said the Jan. 6 mob attack on the Capitol did not look like an armed insurrection, despite the fact that numerous weapons were uncovered on people who broke into the Capitol that day. Members of the mob also were taped beating members of the Capitol Police — with an American flag in one case.

Johnson at other times has sought to play down the riot. During a hearing last week, he said “fake” Trump supporters had instigated the riot while reading from a piece published by the conservative publication, The Federalist.

His decision to become the leading critic of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill also puts him on the record against $1,400 stimulus checks to millions of households and providing a $400 increase in unemployment benefits to the jobless. 

Such provisions have made the legislation broadly popular, even with Republicans, though it’s possible no members of the GOP conference in the Senate will back it given the package’s total cost.  

Johnson’s embrace of the spotlight comes as Democrats seek to end his Senate career — if he runs for reelection. Johnson hasn’t said if he will run for another term. 

Johnson was effectively left for dead by his party in 2016, where it was presumed by national Republicans for months that he was going to lose to former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.). Johnson ended up winning the general election by more than 3 percentage points. 

He’s recently taken shots at Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) for saying Trump is “morally responsible” for the mob attack, and he told CNN that he could not support McConnell as GOP leader. Senate Republicans won’t vote again on their leadership team until late 2022. 

But Republicans are also under pressure from a base still fiercely loyal to Trump to show that they are fighting Democrats and the Biden administration. 

Republicans disclosed during a GOP lunch on Thursday that they were getting calls from constituents to join Johnson’s crusade, two senators told The Hill. 

“I think the conservative audience is embracing the fight. … We all want to be fighting, but also to have a picture of victory at the end and define what that is,” Thune said. 

Democrats are wasting no time trying to make Johnson the face of GOP opposition to the coronavirus bill. 

“The Republican Senator from Wisconsin, the same Senator who—last summer—proudly declared that he would oppose even ‘a dime’ more in COVID relief, the same Senator who spent a Senate hearing on Capitol Security reading conspiracy theories into the record, and said that Jan. 6th wasn’t an armed insurrection—decided to make himself the face of Republican opposition to the bill,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. 

Ben Wilker, the chairman of the Wisconsin Democrats, tweeted out a fundraising link shortly after Johnson formally objected and forced the reading of the 628-page bill. 

But Johnson’s gambit has also gotten the support of some GOP senators, who argue that it will give them time to craft amendments and educate voters. 

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said he was “absolutely” supportive of Johnson’s effort. 

“None of us have seen the text,” Lankford added. 

“I think it’s important for the American people and our Democratic colleagues to recognize that when they’re going to propose spending money that’s not needed and that’s wasteful and they lard up a piece of legislation that that we’re not going to just sit back and take it that we’re going to fight back,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah). 

Tags 2022 midterms Capitol breach Charles Schumer Coronavirus COVID-19 Impeachment James Lankford Joe Biden John Thune Kevin Cramer Lindsey Graham Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Ron Johnson Tim Kaine Wisconsin
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