Ron Johnson’s Reelection Campaign
Running for 2022 as a peddler of COVID-19 conspiracy theories?
Wisconsin’s senior U.S. Senator Ron Johnson just can’t help himself. He’s addicted to quack medicine and conspiracy theories.
Two weeks ago he used his the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee he runs to promote the use of hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug once pushed by President Donald Trump as a way to treat COVID-19, though studies show it provides no benefits and may actually harm patients. And this week, he is doubling down, scheduling a hearing for today with “s cast of witnesses who question much of the public health consensus about the virus,” the New York Times reports. “There is a prominent vaccine skeptic, an outspoken critic of masking and social distancing, and at least two doctors” who have promoted the use of hydroxychloroquine.
Johnson’s lead witness for today’s hearing is Dr. Jane M. Orient, who has cast doubts on COVID-19 vaccines and pushed the use of hydroxychloroquine. Another scheduled witness, Washington cardiologist Ramin Oskoui, argues it is “settled science” that “social distancing doesn’t work, quarantining doesn’t work, masks don’t work.” And two other witnesses “promote the use of ivermectin, a drug often used to fight lice and pinworms, to treat coronavirus patients, despite the National Institutes of Health’s recommendation against its use outside clinical trials.”
Orient, by the way, is the executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), which is “pretty much a wingnut-welfare hiring hall for people who think the AMA is run by a cabal of Trotskyite neurosurgeons,” as Esquire’s Charles Pierce writes today in a column excoriating Johnson. The AAPS, he notes, has pushed theories that mandatory vaccination is “equivalent to human experimentation,” Medicare is “evil,”and women who have abortions are at a higher risk of breast cancer. In 2008, an article on AAPS’s website “suggested that President Barack Obama was covertly hypnotizing people with his speeches, and that this might explain why Jews voted for him.”
MSNBC piled on more criticism, noting that “during a pandemic” Johnson’s committee could “play an important role. After all, a deadly pandemic is, by definition, an enormous domestic threat. But to put it charitably, under Johnson’s leadership, the committee hasn’t exactly met its potential.”
Johnson defended his lineup of speakers, telling the Times the public has a right to learn about treatments they might not otherwise be aware of. “People are being denied information to make intelligent choices themselves,” he said.
But Senator Gary Peters of Michigan, the top Democrat on the panel, argued that the witnesses would “amplify theories that are at odds with the broader scientific community and, according to experts, could cause harm…These fringe views run counter to what the Senate should be doing — working on a bipartisan basis to protect the American people and tackle this deadly pandemic.”
Peters is not cooperating with Johnson’s hearing and is instead “working with a group of a dozen prominent health experts to draft a letter to submit for the Congressional Record challenging their views,” the story reports.
[inarticle_email_signup}”Johnson’s inflammatory public statements and his decision to give a platform to an assortment of contrarian doctors promoting alternative treatments have also irked some fellow Republicans, who have privately groused that he is acting irresponsibly. But in the clubby Senate, few are willing to criticize a colleague openly or challenge a chairman on how he runs his committee.”
Mark Becker, the former county chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party, who wrote about Johnson recently for The Bulwark, suggested Johnson’s embrace of fringe medical theories is part of a “contrarian” outlook that blends with an embrace of Trumpism. “He still cares about not pissing off those Trumpers,” Becker observed. “He said that to me very clearly: ‘I’m not going to piss them off.’”
And that approach is going be how he runs for reelection in 2022, the story suggests. That itself is something of a revelation, as Johnson had promised he wouldn’t run for a third term and had been mentioned as a possible candidate for governor against Democrat Tony Evers in 2022. But Johnson told the Times in late October he is leaning toward running for reelection.
Thomas Nelson, the Outagamie County executive and former Democratic legislator who is running for the seat in 2022, is assuming Johnson will run and intends to assail him for using his senate committee to burrow into “rabbit holes of bizarre conspiracies.”
But nowadays, it’s far from clear that’s a negative for political candidates.