Jul 05, 2022
Meet an anti-gun safety Senate candidate: Ron Johnson
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Wisconsin Republican incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson has opposed every attempt at passing legislation to curb gun violence.
Voters might not know it from Sen. Ron Johnson's congressional or campaign issue webpages, but the Wisconsin Republican has spent his two terms in the Senate opposing virtually every gun safety proposal that has been introduced.Last month, he even opposed the bipartisan compromise gun bill that passed in the wake of the mass shooting in May at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
Johnson was one of 34 Republican senators who voted against even debating the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, a compromise package designed to improve background checks on would-be gun purchasers under age 21, prevent convicted domestic abusers from acquiring firearms, and provide funding for states that opt to adopt red flag laws to temporarily disarm people judged to be a danger to themselves or others. The bill became law over their objections.
It won support from every Democratic senator and even Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. But Johnson denounced it as "flawed gun legislation."
"The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act is a classic example of Washington dysfunction," he said in a June 23 press release explaining his vote in opposition. "Negotiated by a 'gang' with no committee process and no ability to offer amendments, billions in spending with a phantom pay for, and provisions that ignore constitutional rights."
Despite promising not to seek a third term in the Senate, Johnson is currently doing so anyway. Polls show Johnson faces an uphill battle, with among the lowest approval ratings of any incumbent senator in the country. The Democratic primary will be held Aug. 9 and will determine his general election opponent out of a field of eight candidates.
The issues pages on Johnson's Senate and campaign websites omit any mention of his positions on gun violence. His spokespersons did not respond to an inquiry for this story, but a review of his past comments and votes makes clear he has opposed virtually every proposed measure to curb gun violence.Opposed efforts to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals
Johnson has opposed multiple efforts to make sure that everyone goes through a background check before obtaining a firearm.
In a May 5 ABC News interview, he argued that there was no need to have universal background checks because some gun purchases already require them. "We have background checks. What we ought to do is enforce the laws that are on the books," he said, seemingly contradicting his own longstanding efforts to roll back existing state gun restrictions.
In September 2019, he told constituents that background checks could criminalize people who disobey them, and some people might ignore them. "My reluctance is: I don't want to turn into a criminal some guy up in northern Wisconsin who transfers a gun to a friend," Johnson said. "You can pass all the background checks. It's not going to solve this. It probably won't even stop one of these."
"It doesn't take a whole lot of imagination to realize if someone is going to break the law and slaughter a fellow human being, they're not going to have a whole lot of problem violating gun laws either. We have 400 million guns. People are going to be able to get them," he added.
He voted against a 2013 proposal by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA), which would have required a background check prior to any online or gun show firearms purchases, even though their compromise proposal explicitly exempted transfers between family and friends.
Johnson also voted in 2017 to block a federal rule to stop gun purchases by people adjudicated to be mentally unable to handle their own finances.Opposed limits on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines
In August 2019, Johnson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that legislation to stop sales of semi-automatic assault weapons was also unnecessary. After questioning whether semi-automatic rifles are even assault weapons, he said he was against banning them because "You can create a lot of carnage with not using a gun. People attack crowds with trucks." (Truck drivers typically are required to obtain a license.)
Johnson voted against proposals in 2013 to ban the sale of those assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
During a 2012 interview, he told Fox News that he believes large ammunition-feeding devices are a constitutional right. According to a HuffPost report at the time, Johnson told the network, "People will talk about unusually lethal weapons, that could be potentially a discussion you could have. But the fact of the matter is there are 30-round magazines that are just common all over the place. You simply can't keep these weapons out of the hands of sick, demented individuals who want to do harm. And when you try and do it, you restrict our freedom."Voted against allowing funding for gun violence research
In 1996, an amendment proposed by then-Rep. Jay Dickey (R-AR) was included in the appropriations bill for the following year that stipulated "none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control." A 2012 appropriations law similarly prohibited the National Institutes of Health from researching ways to curb gun violence. In practice, this meant that for years the federal agencies were blocked from studying how to prevent the tens of thousands of gun deaths each year in the United States.
Dickey, who lost his seat in the 2000 election, told NPR in 2015 that he regretted that result of his amendment and that more research was needed.
But when Congress finally lifted the prohibition in December 2019, as part of a broader budget agreement, Johnson was one of just 23 senators to vote no on the bipartisan package. He complained in a press release that "the price for funding necessary programs was simply too high to obtain my overall support."Suggested unlimited guns and violence are part of American culture
In April 2019, during a discussion with high school students in Columbus, Wisconsin, Johnson was asked why he did not support modernizing gun laws as other countries have successfully done to curb gun deaths.
"Australia and Japan took away gun rights and gun violence in those countries went way down," a student said.
Johnson responded, "Those are different cultures. I support our rights to have guns and defend ourselves."Endorsed and bankrolled by the National Rifle Association
During his 2010 and 2016 campaigns, the National Rifle Association endorsed Johnson and gave him its highest ratings. In the later race, the group praised his "proven record of support for our Second Amendment freedoms." Its endorsement release noted his agreement with the group on basically every issue: opposing "anti-gun Supreme Court justices" and "anti-gun bureaucrats," supporting "right-to-carry," and opposing background checks.
With its endorsement, the group also invested heavily in his campaigns. In addition to giving him at least $13,400 in political action committee contributions, the NRA spent more than $1 million in dark money to support him and attack his Democratic opponent.
The anti-gun violence group Giffords filed sued two NRA affiliates and a number of campaign committees in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in November 2021, charging: "Over the past seven years, the National Rifle Association ("the NRA") has engaged in an ongoing scheme to evade campaign finance regulations by using a series of shell corporations to illegally but surreptitiously coordinate advertising with at least seven candidates for federal office." The suit is still working its way through the courts. An NRA spokesperson dismissed the suit, telling NPR it was a "misguided" attack and a "premeditated abuse of the public by our adversaries."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.
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Dems push Biden climate, health priorities toward Senate OK
WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats drove their election-year economic package toward Senate approval early Sunday, debating a measure that is less ambitious than President Joe Biden’s original domestic goals but touches deep-rooted party dreams of slowing global warming,moderating pharmaceutical costs and taxing immense corporations.
The legislation cleared its first test in the evenly divided chamber when Democrats burst past unanimous Republican opposition and voted to begin debate 51-50, thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote. The House planned to return Friday to vote on what Democrats hope will be final congressional approval.
“It will reduce inflation. It will lower prescription drug costs. It will fight climate change. It will close tax loopholes and it will reduce and reduce the deficit,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said of the package. “It will help every citizen in this country and make America a much better place.”
Republicans said the measure would undermine an economy that policymakers are struggling to keep from plummeting into recession. They said the bill’s business taxes would hurt job creation and force prices skyward, making it harder for people to cope with the nation’s worst inflation since the 1980s.
“Democrats have already robbed American families once through inflation, and now their solution is to rob American families a second time,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., argued. He said spending and tax hikes in the legislation would eliminate jobs while having insignificant impact on inflation and climate change.
Nonpartisan analysts have said the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act would have a minor impact on surging consumer prices. The bill is barely more than one-tenth the size of Biden’s initial 10-year, $3.5 trillion rainbow of progressive dreams, and the new package abandoned universal preschool, paid family leave and expanded child care aid.
Even so, the measure gives Democrats a campaign-season showcase for action on coveted goals. It includes the largest ever federal effort on climate change — close to $400 billion — and would hand Medicare the power to negotiate pharmaceutical prices and extend expiring subsidies that help 13 million Americans afford health insurance.
Biden’s original measure collapsed after conservative Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., opposed it, saying it was too costly and would fuel inflation.
In an ordeal imposed on all budget bills like this one, the Senate descended into an hours-long “vote-a-rama” of rapid-fire amendments. Each tested Democrats’ ability to hold together a compromise negotiated by Schumer, progressives, Manchin and the inscrutable centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.
Progressive Sen. Bernie Sander, I-Vt., offered amendments to further expand the legislation’s health benefits, and they were defeated. But most proposed changes were fashioned by Republicans to unravel the bill or force Democrats into votes on dangerous political terrain.
One GOP proposal would have forced the Biden administration to continue Trump-era restrictions that cited the pandemic for reducing the flow of migrants across the Southwest border.
Earlier this year, Democrats facing tough reelections supported such an extension, forcing the party to drop its push for COVID-19 spending when Republicans conjoined the two issues. This time, with their far larger economic legislation at stake and elections approaching, Democrats rallied against the border controls.
Other GOP amendments would have required more gas and oil leasing on federal lands and blocked a renewal of a fee on oil that helps finance toxic waste cleanups. All were rejected on party-line votes. Republicans accused Democrats of being soft on border security and opening the door to higher energy and gas costs.
Before debate began Saturday, the bill’s prescription drug price curbs were diluted by the Senate’s non-partisan parliamentarian. Elizabeth MacDonough, who referees questions about the chamber’s procedures, said a provision should fall that would impose costly penalties on drugmakers whose price increases for private insurers exceed inflation.
It was the bill’s chief protection for the 180 million people with private health coverage through work or that they purchase themselves. Under special procedures that will let Democrats pass their bill by simple majority without the usual 60 vote margin, its provisions must be focused more on policy than dollar-and-cents budget changes.
But the thrust of their pharmaceutical price language remained. That included letting Medicare negotiate what it pays for drugs for its 64 million elderly recipients, penalizing manufacturers for exceeding inflation for drugs sold to Medicare and limiting beneficiaries out-of-pocket drug costs to $2,000 annually.
The bill also caps patients’ costs for insulin, the diabetes medication, at $35 monthly.
The measure’s final costs were being recalculated to reflect late changes, but overall it would raise more than $700 billion over a decade. The funding would come from a 15% minimum tax on a handful of corporations with yearly profits above $1 billion; a 1% tax on companies that repurchase their own stock, beefed up IRS tax collections and government savings from lower drug costs.
Sinema forced Democrats to drop a plan to prevent wealthy hedge fund managers from paying less than individual income tax rates for their earnings. She also joined with other Western senators to win $4 billion to combat the region’s horrific drought.
It was on the energy and environment side that Democrats’ compromise was most evident between progressives and Manchin, a champion of fossil fuels and his state’s coal industry.
Efforts fostering clean energy would be strengthened with tax credits for buying electric vehicles and manufacturing solar panels and wind turbines. There would be home energy rebates, funds for constructing factories building clean energy technology and money to promote climate-friendly farm practices and reduce pollution in minority communities.
Manchin won billions to help power plants lower carbon emissions plus language requiring more government auctions for oil drilling on federal land and waters. Party leaders also promised to push separate legislation this fall to accelerate permits for energy projects, which Manchin wants to include a nearly completed natural gas pipeline in his state.
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