Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, who has taken center stage this week in objecting to a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 bill, said he hasn’t yet decided whether he’ll run for his seat in 2022, although he said keeping to his pledge to not seek a third term is “probably my preference now.”
Johnson, of Oshkosh, is openly considering a third term despite Democratic challengers already lining up to challenge him and his pronouncement while running for a second term in 2016 that it would be his last.
“That pledge is on my mind, it was my preference then, I would say it’s probably my preference now,” Johnson said during a Friday media call. “I’m happy to go home.”
But he added a big caveat.
“I think that pledge was based on the assumption we wouldn’t have Democrats in total control of government and we’re seeing what I would consider the devastating and harmful effects of Democrats’ total control just ramming things through,” he said.
Johnson told WTMJ radio Friday that he hasn’t made up his mind on a third term and doesn’t think he needs to decide anytime soon.
“The only people who want me to decide right now are consultants, and particularly the consultants of other people who may want to run for the U.S. Senate seat, they’d like to start raising money and start making money right off the bat,” Johnson said. “I think it’ll save everybody a lot of money by just holding tight and making a decision when I’m ready to.”
Already, Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry and Marshfield radiologist Gillian Battino have announced 2022 U.S. Senate bids as Democrats.
Democratic state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski and U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, are also each mulling a bid.
Johnson said he didn’t decide until late in the process when he first ran in 2010, and that he thinks U.S. campaigns take too long and spend too much money, anyway.
“In the last couple cycles, some of these U.S. Senate seats have cost a hundred million dollars,” Johnson said. “That is grotesque, it is absurd. It is money primarily all wasted.”
Johnson spent much of a call with reporters Friday repeating concerns he expressed earlier this week about a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 spending package aimed at battling the killer virus and nursing the staggered economy back to health. The bill, which the Senate is debating, would provide direct payments of up to $1,400 to most Americans. There’s also money for COVID-19 vaccines and testing, aid to state and local governments, help for schools and the airline industry, tax breaks for lower-earners and families with children, and subsidies for health insurance.
Johnson, who has described the massive stimulus package as unnecessary, forced a full reading of the more than 600-page document to slow down passage. He also planned to introduce a litany of amendments to further slow down the process and to, in his view, make potential improvements to the bill. He said Friday that he wanted to slow down the process to provide more time for debate over the major spending package.
Also on Friday, Johnson said the spending bill is unnecessary because he expects the U.S. economy to quickly rebound and sees the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic in the rearview mirror.
“This is not a weak economy,” Johnson said Friday. “This is an economy ready to just take off.”
Once the measure clears the Senate, the House will have to approve the Senate version before shipping it to President Joe Biden, which Democrats want to do before the last round of emergency jobless benefits run dry March 14. Democrats hold a 51-50 advantage in the Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking ties.
Johnson called the bill unnecessary and said Wisconsin would get less state and local aid than other states because its unemployment rate is lower than some other states, something he attributed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision last spring to strike down the state’s stay-at-home order. The state’s unemployment rate has tracked about a percentage point lower than the national average for the past decade.
He said the bill would reward states such as California, Illinois and New York that imposed stricter lock-down measures than Wisconsin.
Johnson’s Democratic counterpart, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, renewed her call on Friday for passage of the spending plan, which she said would help states, localities and tribal governments continue providing essential services to people during the public health and economic crisis.
“Wisconsin needs more support from Washington to beat the COVID-19 pandemic and move our local economies forward,” Baldwin said in a statement. “The House has done its job, and now we need to pass the American Rescue Plan in the Senate so we can continue to provide essential services that people need.”
As Johnson mulls another Senate bid, he has been increasingly under fire from his would-be 2022 Democratic challengers for his ardent support of former Republican President Donald Trump and controversial remarks he made about the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection, which he said “didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me.”
Johnson has said Republicans moving forward need to embrace the people who voted for Trump and that the Republican Party must unify in order to win back lawmaking power in the 2022 midterms.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.