As the 2022 midterms come into focus, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson says he’s still undecided on whether to run for reelection and is unlikely to make a decision anytime in the near future.
Johnson, R-Oshkosh, told a Milwaukee Press Club and WisPolitics.com media panel Thursday he doesn’t feel any pressure to make a decision on running for a third term, despite former President Donald Trump already endorsing him in April, telling him to “run, Ron, run” in a statement from the former president’s Save America PAC.
He also declined to encourage people to get COVID-19 vaccines, saying he’s concerned about the push for mass vaccination, and said Republicans have accepted that Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election, even as efforts continue to scrutinize the results.
“I think I have plenty of time,” Johnson said. “These campaigns are way too long, they spend way too much money, and so I think I’m doing the Wisconsin public a favor. I’m actually probably doing anybody who might want to run for this seat a favor, too, just kind of delaying this whole campaign.”
Johnson continues to fundraise despite holding off on a decision, raising more than half a million dollars in the first three months of the year.
Several Democrats have already lined up to vie for the seat, including Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson; state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski; Wausau radiologist Gillian Battino; Alex Lasry, a businessman who is currently on leave from his executive position at the Milwaukee Bucks, which his father co-owns; and state Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee.
A late entry into the 2022 race wouldn’t be unusual for Johnson, who waited until late April 2010 before announcing his bid for that year’s November general election.
On Thursday, Johnson said he wouldn’t delay his decision to the point of hampering another Republican’s chances of winning in the general election if he decided not to run, but said he felt no pressure to decide by this August, which will mark one year before the 2022 Republican U.S. Senate primary.
Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race is likely to become one of the most watched races in the country as Republicans attempt to retake the majority after losing it in November.
Johnson declined to recommend people get a COVID-19 vaccine despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the medical community strongly recommending doing so.
“I’m glad that literally tens of millions, more than a hundred million Americans have been vaccinated, and now they have immunity,” Johnson said. “That’s excellent. At the same time, I am highly concerned about this push at indiscriminate mass vaccination.”
Johnson, who said he didn’t feel comfortable encouraging or discouraging vaccination due to not being a doctor, said he was a “big supporter” of the federal vaccination program, but underscored concerns about potential side effects, such as recent reports there may be a causal link between mRNA vaccines and a small number of heart inflammation cases mainly in young men.
During the worst of the COVID-19 crisis, Johnson convened groups of doctors to promote unproven alternative treatments for COVID-19, testimony other medical experts derided.
Democrats slammed Johnson for Thursday’s remarks.
“Ron Johnson has become a creature of Washington,” said Democratic Party of Wisconsin chair Ben Wikler. “At every step, he does what’s best for him, and ignores the Wisconsinites he was elected to represent. As Wisconsinites work to recover from the pandemic, Johnson continues to vote against legislation that would help the state’s families and economy.”
Johnson said he thinks Republicans have accepted President Joe Biden’s win last November even as Republicans in Wisconsin and across the nation continue to investigate what they consider “irregularities,” despite a lack of evidence to any widespread fraud.
“I think we have (accepted Biden’s win),” Johnson said. “What is there left to accept?”
In January, Johnson voted to certify Biden’s win, unlike U.S. Reps. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Tom Tiffany, R-Minocqua. Still, Johnson said he supports the efforts of Republicans across the nation and in Wisconsin to look into the November election through audits and other means.
“Why should anybody fear that?” Johnson said. “If you’re thoroughly convinced there was not a level of fraud that would overturn the election, you ought to be doing everything in your power to assist those forensic audits to assure people that it was a legitimate result.”
As for the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection, which Johnson has previously downplayed, he said he blames the agitators, and not Trump.
“I actually blame the perpetrators of the crime, I blame the agitators, provocateurs,” Johnson said. “I think our hyperpartisan politics is driving all of this.”
Johnson joined 34 other Republicans last month in blocking a bipartisan commission to look into the Jan. 6 insurrection. Johnson has called for a more independent investigation, and said he doesn’t support having Congress in effect investigate itself.
Photos: Visitors enjoy Devil’s Lake and Parfrey’s Glen
“I’m glad that … more than a hundred million Americans have been vaccinated and now they have immunity. … At the same time, I am highly concerned about this push at indiscriminate mass vaccination.”
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.