Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson speaks to the Milwaukee Press Club, June 3, 2021.(Photo: Milwaukee Press Club screen grab)
The Milwaukee Press Club got the full Ron Johnson on Thursday.
In a virtual session that lasted an hour, the Republican U.S. senator from Oshkosh parried questions, offered opinions and ultimatelygave away little on whether he's going to run for reelection next year.
"I'm undecided," he said.
The will he or won't he questions on Johnson won't go away anytime soon as a crowded field of Democrats assembles to take him on next year.
Added to the mix: Johnson vowed in 2016 that he would only serve two terms but has since left the possibility open of running again after Republicans were swept from power in Washington, D.C., in 2020.
On the timing of his decision, he saidhe won't do anything to jeopardize Republican chances to keep the seat.
"When I made that pledge I meant that pledge," Johnson said, adding, "I ran in 2010 because I was panicked for this nation. I'm more panicked today."
Johnson said he "sprang from the tea party" and still identifies"more as a tea party candidate than I do with the Republican Party."
Unlike former House Speaker Paul Ryan, who recently criticized former President Donald Trump and his hold on the Republican Party, Johnson said there continues to be a place for Trump's "AmericaFirst" agenda in the party.
"The AmericaFirst agenda is embraced by an awful lot of Americans," he said.
On COVID-19, Johnson, who got the virus but has not been vaccinated, said he wears masks "in appropriate situations" but was "always opposed to the mask mandate."
He criticized federal authorities for a "closed-minded approach" and ignoring early treatments to the virus. And he said he would neither encourage nor discourage people to get the vaccine.
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"I'm glad that literally more than 100 million Americans have been vaccinated and now they have immunity," he said. "That's excellent. At the same time, I'm highly concerned about this push at indiscriminate mass vaccination."
Johnson said he other Republicans have accepted President Joe Biden's election but that alleged"election irregularities" need to be looked at. He expressed support for a Republican-backed election audit in Maricopa County, Arizona, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos' plan to hire ex-cops to investigate the election in Wisconsin.
Little evidence has emerged of any widespread fraud in Wisconsin or elsewhere. In Wisconsin, election clerksalerted prosecutors to 41 cases of potential voter fraud since last August, which is just a tiny fraction of the more than 3 million votes cast.
"Yes, President Biden is president, I acknowledged that the moment the electors chose him as such," he said. "All I'm saying is we need to take a look at the irregularities of the 2020 election so that we can restore confidence."
Johnson defended his vote against a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. He said he's investigating the events.
EDITORIAL: Ron Johnson, Scott Fitzgerald and Tom Tiffany should resign or be expelled for siding with Trump against our republic
He said he didn't "trust" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to "select commissioners to investigate her own involvement in this thing, for her own culpability, or any congressional leaders culpability in this."
On the insurrection, Johnson refused to be drawn on the question of whether Trump was responsible and said, "I actually blame the perpetrators of the crime. I blame the agitators, the provocateurs, whoever really kind of led that assault, that breach on the Capitol."
He opposed the Biden administration's $1.9 trillion infrastructure plan but said he favored reallocating around $720 billion in COVID-19-related spending to deal with nation's infrastructure needs. That idea is a non-starter with Democrats.
Johnson said critical race theory shouldn't be taught in schools and added, "I do not believe America is a systemically racist country."
He labeled as "awful" Biden's address to mark the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa massacre, when a white mob rampaged through the city's "Black Wall Street," killing hundreds.
Biden said "we must address what remains the stain on the soul of America" and addedwhat happened 100 years ago "was an act of hate and domestic terrorism with a through line that exists today still."
More: A rumor, then a gunshot: How Black Wall Street was decimated in the Tulsa Race Massacre
Johnson said the Tulsa massacre was "horrible ... but I don't think you can sit there and say things haven't improved at all, nothing's changed, we're still the samehateful, systemically racist nation. We're not. That's a falsehood."
Ben Wikler, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, responded to Johnson's appearance, calling him a "creature of Washington."
"At every step, he does what's best for him, and ignores the Wisconsinites he was elected to represent," Wikler said.
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