• WisPolitics

Monday, October 12, 2015

 10:07 AM 

Despite Ryan's reluctance, Johnson backs him for speaker

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson left no doubt he is in Paul Ryan's corner as the U.S. rep weighs mounting pressure to run for speaker of the House.

Johnson, R-Oshkosh, speaking at a WisPolitics.com luncheon Friday at the Madison Club, said Ryan is the perfect candidate to "herd a couple hundred cats" in the House. Ryan, despite his repeated refusals, has been the front-runner for the speaker position since U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., withdrew his name from consideration Thursday.

"One of the things that is tough for Paul is: Does he really want that miserable job, that thankless job?" Johnson said, adding he sent a text to Ryan that amounted to "you're in my prayers."

Calling Ryan a man of integrity and honesty, Johnson said the Janesville Republican would be the perfect person to unite the House GOP.

"This nation, with the enormous challenges it faces today is hungry for leadership," Johnson said. "And so I think it's a real tribute to Paul that in the hour of the House's need, and quite honestly America's need ... a nation is turning their eyes to Paul."

But Johnson said House Republicans need to give Ryan time to make the decision and make sure they are ready for him if he chooses to accept a nomination. That means being prepared to accept him as the leader and stand behind his decisions, even if that means taking tough votes when he needs them to, Johnson said.

Ryan, to an extent, would be giving up his policymaking role as chair of Ways and Means to take on a job that would send him around the country to work with members in their districts, Johnson said.

"I think Paul is the person who can definitely bridge that divide, but I do hope he is pretty demanding," he said. "If he decides to do this, from my standpoint, this is a political sacrifice on his part, from what he really wants to do."

Johnson today also discussed his own campaign and what is shaping up to be a heated battle with Russ Feingold. While polls are not giving Johnson great news now, he said he doesn't worry about them.

"By the way, the polls, completely meaningless," he said. "Anybody not think this is going to be just a razor-thin margin? It's going to be a close race. It just is."

Saying Feingold has said plenty about him, Johnson chose to take the gloves off and slam his challenger. He called Feingold a "career politician" who wants only to serve his ego and who is willing to violate the principles he once stood for just so he can get back into office.

Johnson repeated what he has said in the past, that he is a reluctant candidate. And, he said, he certainly has no interest in what will be an 18-month campaign.

"I'd rather do my job and tell the truth," he said. "But Sen. Feingold, on the other hand, just is so addicted, I mean, so covets getting back in there."

Johnson also fielded several questions on various topics:

* He said he is not ready to endorse a Republican presidential candidate. He first said he has "spoken to all of them" but later adjusted that to "a lot of them." He said if he does endorse, it will be based on "a preponderance of agreement on the issues."

* Unlike Ryan and Gov. Scott Walker, Johnson supports the Export-Import Bank and voted for its reauthorization. GE blamed the reauthorization failure for the company's decision to pull jobs out of Wisconsin. Johnson said the ideal would be getting governments out of the business of doing financing but acknowledged most other countries have the banks and "you can't unilaterally disarm."

He said he thinks reauthorization still could happen.

"There's a fair amount of pressure. But I can't predict the House, particularly at this point in time," Johnson said.

* Regarding ISIS and the civil war in Syria, Johnson repeated he thinks the U.S. has to actively stabilize the country and defeat the organization.

"It will need boots on the ground," he said, "but it should be a coalition. And the model I would throw out there is the first Gulf War."

* Johnson took a question about whether he supports increasing the retirement age for Social Security. He didn't answer the question directly, but said the system is "a legal Ponzi scheme" and needs a solution.

He said during the next 30 years, the system will pay out $14 trillion more than it takes in through the payroll tax. Increasing the retirement age from 67 to 70 over four years, he said, would save about $1 trillion.

Listen to Johnson's luncheon talk:

WisPolitics Luncheon Sen. Ron Johnson (10-9-2015) from WisOpinion on Vimeo.


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