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Ron Johnson uses his Senate platform in a profoundly misguided way

There's no defense for how Ron Johnson has used the Senate Homeland Security Committee - which had real work to do during the pandemic - throughout 2020.
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Senator Ron Johnson, R-Wis., center, listens during a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 3, 2020.Stefani Reynolds / Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Senate Homeland Security Committee could've spent the last several months doing important work. A deadly pandemic, after all, is a profound domestic threat, which demanded the powerful Senate panel's time and attention.

But the Senate Homeland Security Committee is led by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who's insisted on using the high-profile platform in a profoundly misguided way.

For much of 2020, when the far-right Wisconsinite wasn't focusing attention on pre-election, anti-Biden conspiracy theories -- which, not surprisingly, didn't amount to anything of value -- Johnson pushed the line that the United States "overreacted" in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

But since last month's elections, the GOP committee chairman has gone in an even more unfortunate direction.

Three weeks ago, Johnson organized a Homeland Security Committee hearing on hydroxychloroquine -- which even the White House no longer talks about -- and the Republican senator's suspicions that federal "bureaucrats" are blocking access to the drug, by relying on "disinformation" and "scaremongering."

At the hearing, Johnson was dismissive of those who balk at using hydroxychloroquine as a COVID treatment, simply because it, "you know, hasn't been proven effective." As we discussed soon after, he didn't appear to be kidding.

Yesterday, as the New York Times reported, Johnson went just a little further.

In choosing a slate of doctors to testify about coronavirus treatments before his committee on Tuesday, Senator Ron Johnson has assembled a cast of witnesses who question much of the public health consensus about the virus. 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 an anti-parasitic drug that government scientists have recommended against using to treat the coronavirus.

While Americans are accustomed to partisan and ideological divides on Capitol Hill, the Times' report added that Democrats on the panel have begun effectively boycotting Johnson's foolish hearings, while some Republicans have done the same thing, "lest their presence be seen as lending credence" to the proceedings.

Or as Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said, when describing one of Johnson's fringe witnesses, "I think it's nuts to bring that into the Senate."

But since Johnson clearly doesn't care, the Senate Homeland Security Committee heard testimony from a witness who recently told Fox News that it was "settled science" that "social distancing doesn't work, quarantining doesn't work, masks don't work."

In reality, the science shows the opposite.

Another witness touted a "wonder drug," which should be seen as "the solution to COVID-19." This was in reference to an anti-lice drug called ivermectin, which the National Institutes of Health has recommended against using as a coronavirus treatment.

Of course, the problem wasn't limited to voices touting unusual theories who were given a high-profile platform on Capitol Hill. The larger problem was with the senator who invited them: Ron Johnson not only touted unproven treatments to a deadly virus, and not only indulged his anti-science impulses, he also suggested real scientists and respected public-health experts might have corrupt motivations, which leads him to find credibility in voices from outside the scientific mainstream.

The Senate committee's top Democrat, Michigan's Gary Peters, wondered aloud about the value of having witnesses "amplify theories that are at odds with the broader scientific community and, according to experts, could cause harm." The Democratic senator added, "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."

And that would've been how the Senate Homeland Security Committee spent 2020, were it not for the fact that GOP leaders put Johnson in charge of it.

As Rachel put it yesterday, "Whatever Senator Ron Johnson does in the rest of his life, this will follow him forever. This will be what history records him as having done with his time in power, while hundreds of thousands of Americans died, when he could have helped instead."

Update: This post was edited slightly for clarity.