Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Ron Johnson Gets “F” For Leadership

Republican leaning group ranks him among the worst in Congress running a committee.

By - Jul 21st, 2020 02:49 pm
Christina Brungardt. Photo by Lynn Lane/Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America / CC BY-SA (

Christina Brungardt. Photo by Lynn Lane/Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America / CC BY-SA (

Richard Lugar was a U.S. Senator from Indiana (1977-2013) who was considered a moderate Republican, though he moved to the right toward the end, opposing both the Obama stimulus funding and the Affordable Care Act. After losing in the Republican primary in 2014, he created the non-partisan Lugar Center, as “a platform for an informed debate on global issues” and enhancing “bipartisan governance.” Most members of its board of directors have a Republican background.

The center has created a Congressional Oversight Hearing Index, “a new analytical database that enables the public to evaluate how well each committee in Congress is performing its vital oversight role… The COHI grades each Congressional committee on its performance relative to the past performance of the same committee.”

Wisconsin’s Republican U.S. Senator Ron Johnson is among the 39 members of Congress, in the Senate and House of Representatives, who are rated and he gets an “F”, along within nine other committee heads. Ten committee leaders get an “A” and the rest are somewhere in between. 

Johnson runs the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, once known as the Committee on Government Affairs, which was broadened to include Homeland Security after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It also boasts a powerful subcommittee, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which serves as the chief oversight committee of the Senate for all branches of government. The committee chair can issue subpoenas without a committee vote.

Once one of the Senate’s “most active” committees, the Lugar assessment notes, its “hearing schedule has fallen dramatically in recent years… From a high of 185 hearings in the 111th Congress (2009-10), hearing activity fell to just 86 in the 115th Congress (2017-18) under Chair Ron Johnson… far below the committee’s average of 122 for the three previous Congresses.”

“Along with the decline in overall hearings has come an even bigger drop in policy and legislative oversight,” the analysis notes. “From a high of 118 policy and legislative hearings in the 111th Congress, the committee under Chair Johnson held only 40 in the 115th. That is by far the fewest the committee held during the period.” 

This committee has in the past also “held the most investigative oversight hearings in the Senate,” the rating continues. “However, its record for the 115th Congress under Chair Johnson and PSI Chair Rob Portman (R, Ohio), 10 investigative hearings, is the committee’s lowest figure of the five Congresses studied… It is well below the committee average for the period, and the continuation of a decline in investigative activity since the 111th Congress, when it held 28. Much of the drop-off… under Chair Johnson and PSI Chair Portman can be attributed to a decline in the PSI’s private sector probes.” 

Interestingly, given the Republican-leaning background of the group’s board, its analysis gives a generally dismal ranking to the Republican Senate, with eight “F” grades and just one “A” grade. By contrast, the Democratic-run House gets just two “F” grades, with an “A” for nine committee leaders. 

Though investigative hearings have declined badly under Johnson, he was quick to act after President Donald Trump’s reported demand that Senate Republicans get “tough” on “Obamagate”, an alleged plot of the Obama administration and the intelligence community to hurt his presidential campaign by investigating its links to and possible collusion with the Russian interference in the 2016 election. This claim, of course, contradicts the Republican-run Senate’s recent Intel report that Russia interfered with the 2016 election to help elect Trump, which would suggest the intelligence community had every reason for the 2016 probe. 

Yet Johnson’s committee issued 35 subpoenas to probe this nefarious plot, winning praise from Trump: “I want to take my hat off to… Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. The job he’s doing is incredible…I see that a lot of subpoenas out.”  

Johnson has a long history of ignoring information he was given about Russia’s interference with America’s election. The full story of Johnson’s fawning loyalty to Trump was recently recounted by liberal writer Sidney Blumenthal for a website called Just Security. Most of it is not new, but when assembled into a narrative it is not a pretty picture. 

The story comes complete with yet another recantation by former Milwaukee right-wing talk show host Charlie Sykes, who is forever surprised at how wrong he was back then and can always be counted on for such confessions to the national media. “It turned out that Ron Johnson was not who Sykes thought he was,” Blumenthat writes, noting Sykes was a fervant champion who helped Johnson win his first race in 2010. “He was poised to be very much his own man,” Sykes recalls thinking of Johnson. “Instead, he became Trump’s.” 

Johnson gets a somewhat better ranking from GovTrack, another non-partisan group which rates all members of Congress for their leadership. Johnson ranks 46th in the Senate in the latest ranking (for 2019), about average among 100 senators. But that’s well behind his fellow Wisconsin U.S. Senator, Democrat Tammy Baldwin, who ranked 16th best for leadership. Impressive, but we’ll know she’s really arrived when Sykes recants all his past criticisms of her.  

Update July 22: Top congressional Democrats led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have warned in a letter that “Russian-linked information is being funneled to a committee headed by Senator Ron Johnson” to “further Russia’s efforts to interfere again in the American presidential election” and “to smear the presidential campaign of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.,” the New York Times has reported The situation echoes 2016, when U.S. intelligence experts warned congressional leaders, including Johnson, that Russia was interfering in the 2016 election and Republicans declined to take any action. In response to the Democrats’ latest concerns, Johnson told Politico “They’re simply wrong.”

If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real, independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits.

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

5 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Ron Johnson Gets “F” For Leadership”

  1. kmurphy724 says:

    Uhg. When is Johnson’s term up again?

  2. JMcD says:

    An F seems right to me. I have written to him several times and have never received a response. Have written Baldwin several times and have always received a response, including a phone call. Empty suit.

  3. Keith Prochnow says:

    The man is an embarrassment.

  4. frank a schneiger says:

    People should be judged within a context of the times in which they are living. Here are two assumptions to be accepted or rejected: first, the COVID-19 has exposed deep and dangerous fissures in American society that have been growing for many decades; second, the current administration is undermining American democracy in many ways, and, in the process, aligning our country with fascist and autocratic regimes rather than democracies.

    If you accept those assumptions, Ron Johnson is part of a definable group in the U.S.Senate. On the Republican side, there is now a group of out-and-out fascists (definition from “The Anatomy of Fascism,” Robert Paxton, pages 218-220). This group includes Blackburn, Cotton, Cruz, Hawley, Paul and Inhofe, although Inhofe is more of a demented tool of the fossil fuel industry than someone with an ideology.

    Then there is a small group, the “businessmen,” with no definable ideology, but a belief that being businessmen gives them some special insights and wisdom that others, especially stupid faceless bureaucrats, don’t have. Ron Johnson, along with Perdue and Rick Scott are part of this group. Money, their exalted status, and “the economy,” aka the stock market, are what drives them. It also has them worshipping at the altar of the failed businessman and sociopath Donald Trump and his “pro-business” policies, which further entrench America’s world class inequality and social tensions, foster unprecedented corruption at every level of government and business, flood the judiciary with pro-corporate hacks, and undermine all of the nation’s social and environmental protections.

    What is frightening about Ron Johnson is that – like Quislings and collaborators in the fascist past – he appears capable of going along with and supporting anything. As a stupid person with no understanding of history – something he shares with the president – he will work to undermine democratic institutions, civil liberties and America’s standing in the world. Keith Prochnow uses the term “embarrassment,” which is correct, but Ron Johnson and his colleagues – the rest of the “capable of anything” crew – are far more than embarrassments.

    In addition to history, fiction and film give a clear sense of what people do and don’t do in pivotal times like these. Phillp Kerr’s “Bernie Gunther” novels give a sense of what it’s like to try to navigate a moral life while surviving in a society that has put evil people in power. The film “Cabaret” also captures these choices at a pivotal moment. We may not be Germany in the early 1930s, but the rise of people like Ron Johnson, non-entities who are capable of going along with anything and have no moral guardrails should be seen as a real warning.

  5. Jhenry1131 says:

    No surprises here!

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us