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- 46th and current president of the United States
- 45th President of the United States
This story was republished on Jan. 14, 2022 to make it free for all readers
Editor's note: After the Editorial Board called on Sen. Ron Johnson to either resign or be expelled from office for his role in spreading disinformation about the presidential election, the senator asked for space to respond. We are providing him that courtesy today. We also are taking the rare step of footnoting Johnson's commentary to provide additional context so that readers have a fuller understanding of the senator's actions.
In an unhinged and uninformed editorial, the Journal Sentinel called for my resignation or expulsion from the U.S. Senate. Among its many baseless charges, it accuses me of “inciting violence and an act of domestic terrorism,” being “a leading member of the Senate Sedition Caucus,” “stoking an insurrection,” “violating my solemn oaths,” being a racist (they must have overlooked my involvement with Milwaukee’s Joseph Project) and “shilling for Trump” (apparently along with 74 million other Americans who voted for him). 1
All this because I did half of what Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer did in 2005 when she objected to Ohio’s electors, forcing a two-hour debate. 2 Unlike Senator Boxer — who to my knowledge was never asked to resign or be expelled — I did not vote to sustain the objection. 3 When asked by the Associated Press immediately afterward why I voted no, I responded, “We needed to have the debate, but we also need to respect the rule of law and our constitutional constraints.”
Does that sound like incitement or a violation of my oath?
Far from “stoking an insurrection,” an honest examination of my actions would show me attempting to defuse growing passions. Ever since the Electoral College met, I have acknowledged that former Vice President Joe Biden is the president-elect and repeatedly said I could not envision any scenario where Biden electors would be rejected. Supporting the first objection gave me a voice in negotiations to bring about an honest but not endless debate. 4
But we needed to have the debate. A growing belief 5 that votes to disallow electors would be based on one vote per state — where Republicans have an advantage — instead of involving every member, had to be proven false. It is also important to acknowledge — instead of scornfully dismissing — the legitimate concerns of tens of millions of Americans and to recognize that it is not sustainable that so many have lost faith in our institutions and the fairness of our electoral process. 6
Those who have lost confidence are not crazy. They are citizens who dearly love America and are alarmed by what they witnessed over the last four years: political opponents decrying a duly elected president as illegitimate and participating in a resistance to him; a thoroughly corrupt FBI investigation of that duly elected president; 7 a grossly biased media 8 that chose a side and used its power to interfere in our politics to a far greater extent than any foreign entity could ever hope to achieve; an increasingly powerful social media that censors news and conservative voices; 9 and courts and election officials that usurp the constitutional authority of state legislatures in setting the times, places and manner of holding elections.
They were reminded of the Carter-Baker Commission’s caution regarding absentee balloting: “Absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud.” Then they saw COVID-19 exploited to dramatically increase absentee voting — and simultaneous extensive efforts to weaken the controls governing it. 10 They heard that Facebook’s CEO spent almost half a billion dollars to increase Democrat turnout in Democrat-controlled jurisdictions, and they wonder, “Is that even legal?” 11
Then on Election Day, they saw poll watchers being thrown out or obstructed from observing.
They heard credible allegations of voting fraud that they know are too rarely investigated or prosecuted, 12 of large Democrat-controlled counties dumping their vote totals in the wee hours of the morning only after Republican counties have reported, 13 election officials and others refusing to turn over evidence to those investigating irregularities, and courts refusing to hear what evidence was obtained and instead dismissing election challenges on procedural grounds. 14
The Journal Sentinel is wrong to imply these citizens would shut up and forget their concerns if only elected Republicans tell them to. 15 This is not a problem that can be swept aside with the hope it will somehow solve itself. I recognized this early and held a hearing in December (full video here), but was only able to scratch the surface of the issues involved. Witnesses testified under oath, subject to the penalties of perjury, but the Journal Sentinel calls it “bogus.” My opening statement in no way can be viewed as an incitement. Unless election irregularities are fully investigated and explanations provided, I fear this problem will fester and could lead to even greater rancor and division. 16
I hoped this debate would serve as a wake-up call to state legislatures to recognize the legitimacy of these concerns, fully investigate the irregularities in their states, reassert their authority over federal elections, and establish controls to restore confidence in our election system. The solution lies in the states, not with the federal government. For the future unity of our nation, it is crucial that states properly shoulder their responsibility, take the action required, and alleviate any doubt that future elections will be fair and legitimate. 17
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There is no justification for the violence that occurred at the Capitol. I condemned it then and I condemn it now. I also offer my sincere condolences to the loved ones of those who died. But unlike many in the media and on the left, I am consistent in my condemnation of “peaceful protests” that become violent. Where is the media condemnation of Democrats who have actually promoted violence over the last four years and, prior to the election, told President-elect Biden never to concede? 18
Prior to publishing its partisan screed, the Journal Sentinel could have reviewed the public record and investigated the validity of its baseless and incendiary allegations against me. Casually and wrongly using terms like “insurrection,” “incitement,” “sedition” and “domestic terrorism” might feel good when putting pen to paper, but when the state’s largest “news” publication does it, it simply confirms what a large percentage of Americans already believe: The mainstream media have dropped all pretense of objectivity and can no longer be trusted. It’s well past time for the media to look in the mirror and acknowledge the role their bias has played in widening our national divide and exacerbating the problem. 19
1. Sen. Ron Johnson took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. In our system, the states certify Electoral College votes and Congress acknowledges the victor. Senators and representatives cannot overturn the will of citizen voters by rejecting a state's electoral votes.
As for racism: Underlying the attack on the U.S. Capitol was a “tribal fury against people targeted as scapegoats,” we wrote, a fury President Donald Trump stoked repeatedly during his time in office. Johnson showed he was a willing accomplice in this shameful politics by repeatedly failing to adequately call out Trump’s appeals to the worst prejudices in people.
2. Although one senator, Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., challenged the results in Ohio after the 2004 presidential election, the situation was radically different from 2020. Boxer stood alone in the Senate that year, and fellow Democrats distanced themselves from her actions. She was not supported by the Democratic candidate for president, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts. In fact, Kerry followed normal protocol for U.S. presidential elections and called President George W. Bush to concede and congratulate him on Nov. 3, the morning after the votes were counted. Unlike Trump, Kerry never questioned the overall integrity of the election.
3. Johnson only voted against objections to Joe Biden's victories in Arizona and Pennsylvania after the deadly sacking of the U.S. Capitol had interrupted Congress' tallying of the Electoral College vote on Jan. 6. Up to the insurrection, Johnson had publicly stated he would vote in favor of challenges to the state-certified votes. Originally, those challenges were to include Wisconsin's tallies.
Worse, like Trump, Johnson spent weeks questioning the validity of the election without citing any evidence. That included holding a one-sided hearing that allowed Trump’s lawyers to once again air allegations of fraud that had already been rejected by dozens of courtrooms across America, including both Republican and Democratic judges and even federal judges appointed by Trump.
Johnson’s role in spreading and amplifying lies about the election — including his threat to challenge the ceremonial counting of electoral votes in Congress — encouraged Trump supporters to believe the result could be overturned, and that helped lead to the tragedy at the Capitol.
In an interview broadcast Monday night, William Barr, Trump's former attorney general, said that doubts raised about the legitimacy of the Nov. 3 election “precipitated the riot” at the Capitol.
And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Tuesday blamed Trump and other leaders. “The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people and they tried to use fear and violence,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.
In our view, those "powerful people" include Senator Johnson.
4. Despite filing more than 60 court cases, Trump and his supporters could find no evidence of fraud or “irregularities” that would have changed the result. They lost case after case. Senator Johnson should have acknowledged Biden’s victory immediately and repeatedly as Trump spread lies and challenged the election like no president in history, of any party, has ever done. Instead of "attempting to defuse growing passions," Johnson did the opposite.
After working on bills to ensure a smooth and peaceful transition of power at the end of the Obama administration, Johnson did a complete flip when Trump lost. Asked a week after the election if he had congratulated Joe Biden, Johnson snapped: "Nothing to congratulate him about." His decision to “investigate” the election results gave more life to conspiracy theories designed to mislead and stir resentment.
5. And where did this “growing belief” come from? Not from reporting by independent, fact-based news organizations. It came from interest groups and politicians who were careless with facts in their support of Trump.
6. Why have some Trump supporters lost faith in the fairness of the electoral process? It is precisely because irresponsible politicians like Trump and Johnson, aided by reckless allies at right-wing propaganda outlets, continually called those election results into question.
7. This is a Johnson hobby horse, again parroting claims by Trump. A Department of Justice inspector general in Trump's own administration found in 2019 that while the FBI had “serious performance failures” in its investigation of Russian influence in the 2016 election, there was ample reason for an investigation and political bias didn’t drive it. In an August report, the Senate Intelligence Committee, under Republican leadership, found numerous contacts between Trump’s campaign and the Russians and said Moscow posed a “grave” threat.
8. Like Trump, Johnson frequently claims “media bias” to divert attention from his own failures. America's founders established a free and independent press precisely so politicians in power could not control the information citizens receive. The Journal Sentinel and its partner wire services would have reported the exact same way if a Democratic incumbent had been defeated by a Republican challenger and refused to accept the will of the voters.
9. This is a fallacy. Despite the alleged liberal bias of social media companies like Facebook and Twitter, an analysis by Politico in October found that Trump and his supporters have dominated those spaces, with right-wing social commentary being shared sometimes as much as 10 times more often than posts by liberals and Democrats. The companies banned Trump only after the Jan. 6 uprising — for violating policies against inciting violence, which all users agree to in advance.
10. This didn’t happen in Wisconsin. Many people voted absentee but they did it under existing rules. More Wisconsin voters were allowed to vote absentee without showing photo identification in counties Trump won than in counties that backed Joe Biden.
11. This issue was raised in lawsuits in Wisconsin. Judges found the practice was legal.
12. The way to challenge election results under the rule of law in America is through the courts and judicial branch. Senator Johnson and President Trump have not produced evidence of any wrongdoing that would change the outcome. No court has found the accusations of fraud credible.
13. This is misleading. Votes were not “dumped.” They were counted. This took a long time in Wisconsin because state law prevents ballots from being counted prior to Election Day. Johnson is well aware of this: Before the election, he called for the law to be changed. Everyone knew it would take time to open envelopes, check ballots against registration lists and put them through the machines, especially in population centers. Republican and Democratic observers were present the entire time and the process was broadcast over the internet for all who wanted to watch it.
14. Conservatives have long argued for tight rules over who has “standing” to sue in many types of cases. Election rules in Wisconsin were adjusted and reviewed by a Republican-led government and were not challenged in past elections.
15. How about telling the truth? Instead of spreading the lie that the election wasn’t valid, Johnson should have done as Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, suggested in a speech the night the Capitol was sacked. “The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth. … The truth is that President-elect Biden won this election. President Trump lost.”
16. By encouraging the lie about election “irregularities” and by acting as if Congress could overturn the results and negate the certified ballots of millions of Americans, it is Johnson who has done more than most to foment “rancor and division.” As U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher of Green Bay put it in a commentary for USA TODAY: "The objectors were giving millions of people false hope that somehow Congress or Vice President Mike Pence could change the outcome of the election. This was, of course, a lie." That lie helped lead to the insurrection at the Capitol as election results were formally accepted by Congress.
17. Federal officials, including Trump’s Attorney General William Barr, vouched for the integrity of the election. On Nov. 12, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency — part of Trump's own administration — and two other groups said: “The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history. … There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.” Hand recounts of paper ballots in jurisdictions, such as Georgia, only confirmed the results. The same was true in two Wisconsin counties that did recounts.
18. Blame the media and act like a victim of bias — a classic propaganda tactic to divert attention from the facts in question. Johnson links to a foreign news organization quoting Hillary Clinton to support his claim. (Clinton, who won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote by the same margin that Trump lost to Biden, called Trump to concede and congratulate him the morning after the 2016 election). Johnson also links to a conservative site that uses quotes about unrest without appropriate context.
19. This is a page right out of the Trump playbook — blame the “mainstream media” when you don’t have an answer. The Editorial Board will defend the right of the citizens to choose their elected officials — government of the people, by the people, for the people — even if Senator Johnson will not.
The USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin Editorial Board operates independently of the network's news reporters and editors. Email the Editorial Board: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Sen. Ron Johnson calls editorial 'unhinged.' Editorial Board responds.