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Image: Senate Homeland Security Committee Holds Hearing On Government's Interagency Response To Coronavirus
Chairman Ron Johnson, R-W.I., speaks at the start of a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on the government's response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in Washington on March 5, 2020.Samuel Corum / Getty Images

Key senator looks for election 'irregularities' his party can't find

Mitt Romney said, "I don't see the purpose of a hearing other than to stir up controversy." But therein lies the point: Ron Johnson likes the controversy.


Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) could've spent the last several months doing important work related to the pandemic. The Wisconsin Republican chose a far more unfortunate path, devoting much of the pre-election period to chasing an anti-Biden conspiracy theory, and spending the post-election period holding strange hearings related to the coronavirus.

The good news, Johnson is not holding yet another hearing today questioning the public health consensus about COVID-19. The bad news is, he is using his powerful platform to cast baseless doubts about the 2020 election results. The Washington Post reported:

[T]he Republican from Wisconsin is using his last days as chairman of the powerful Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee to investigate what he calls "election irregularities" related to the 2020 campaign. The hearing, to be held Wednesday, comes after an array of federal and state courts rejected Trump's claims of widespread voter fraud and in the wake of Monday's electoral college vote confirming Joe Biden's victory.

It's worth emphasizing for context that Johnson, at least as of yesterday, does not contest the fact Joe Biden won the election. What's more, neither the Republican committee chairman nor his partisan allies have any proof of "election irregularities."

But Johnson called today's hearing anyway, inviting Ken Starr -- yes, that Ken Starr -- to testify alongside other GOP proponents of the idea that the reality of the 2020 election results may not be trustworthy.

For their part, Democrats on the panel invited Christopher Krebs, who led the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). Why would Democrats welcome testimony from a Trump administration official? Because Krebs, before Donald Trump fired him, had played a prominent role debunking far-right nonsense about the elections.

The Senate Democratic leadership asked Ron Johnson not to proceed with a hearing that would only serve to needlessly promulgate baseless claims. Dems aren't alone: Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said this week, "I don't see the purpose of a hearing other than to stir up controversy."

But therein lies the point: Johnson likes the controversy. He wants more of it. The Republican committee chairman sees an opportunity to cast doubt on election results he doesn't like, and he appears eager to exploit that opportunity as much as possible.

Politico added this morning, "Ron Johnson is embracing President Donald Trump as tightly as possible as he decides whether to run for reelection to a must-win Senate seat for Republicans. Johnson, a steadfast Trump ally who has endeared himself to the president with his various investigative pursuits, is defending his approach, even as he faces a possible reelection campaign in a state that President-elect Joe Biden won in November. And Democrats are taking notice."

Johnson promised voters he'd only serve two terms, but like so may proponents of term limits, the Wisconsin Republican is no longer ruling out the possibility of seeking re-election in 2022.

To that end, Johnson appears to be going out of his way to be as Trump-ish as possible, though it's a strategy with risks. In 2018 and 2020, most Republican Senate incumbents running in states Donald Trump lost ended up failing in their re-election bids.

And though Wisconsin was very competitive in 2020, Joe Biden narrowly carried the state, which is a detail Johnson is no doubt mindful of as he weighs his 2022 options.