Senator Ron Johnson joined me this morning to discuss the espionage directed at the CIA, the AHCA,and the border wall:
HH: Joined by United States Senator Ron Johnson of the great state of Wisconsin. I was in Madison for the first time last week, Senator. It was cold. I tell you, it’s a very cold city.
RJ: (laughing) Well, come in the summer, Hugh.
HH: (laughing) I’m going to have to do that, because I’m not coming back there…
RJ: There’s a solution to that problem.
HH: (laughing) I’m not going back there in the winter. Hey, I want to start with, you are a member of the Homeland Security Committee. The CIA spill, does it appear to you to be of real documents from within the CIA?
RJ: I really can’t comment on that. What I’m saying is based on reports, news reports. If it is, to me, this could be the information age equivalent to, you know, basically passing nuclear secrets over to the Russians.
HH: The Rosenbergs, yup.
RJ: I mean, this is incredibly serious. I mean, you start laying out our playbook in terms of what our capabilities are from the standpoint of cyber capabilities, incredibly damaging. Whoever did this is a traitor. And you know, I think one of my problems with President Obama commuting Chelsea Manning’s sentence is it sent a signal like well, you know, I mean, this kind of cybercrime is no big deal. No, this is a, this could potentially be a very, very big deal.
HH: Do you think it is on a part with the Rosenbergs passing the nuclear secrets to the Soviets?
RJ: It certainly has that potential in the information age.
HH: All right, now Senator, in terms of that, is Wikileaks a Russian intelligence front?
RJ: Hugh, I have no idea. They’re not a friend of America. We know that they are opposed to America and our values and ideals. I mean, they continue to do things that harm America. So Julian Assange is not a friend to America. These people that are leaking this information, that are providing Wikileaks information, they are enemies of America and they need to be treated that way.
HH: All right, now let’s move on to the American Health Care Act that was introduce by the House yesterday. It’s designed to get through the Senate. I think it’s a major entitlement reform. I support it. What do you think of it?
RJ: I want to see more information, quite honestly. I was at a meeting, and I’d give Lamar Alexander a great deal of credit. He’s held, you know, some really good informational meetings with senators, anybody who wanted to attend with state insurance commissioners, governors, health care CEO’s, health care experts. At the last meeting, though, one of the comments I made is you know, at some point in time, we’re going to have to see some numbers. I guess that’s just my accounting background. I come from a manufacturing background solving a lot of problems. And you first start with information. So I mean, I appreciate the difficult nature of cobbling together something that’s going to work, but I’m not currently interested in seeing the legislative language. Right now, I want to see the facts and figures that back up what the proposal is. And you know, Hugh, I’ve been saying for quite some time our first goal is we need to repair the damage done by Obamacare, and that is these premiums that on the individual market have skyrocketed, the fact that those exchanges on the individual market insurance pools are collapsing. And you know, again, I’m not quite seeing exactly how we repair the damage. How do we in this health care proposal bring down those premiums, because that’s, to me, the first step is we’ve got to repair that damage, then transition to something that’ll actually work. Now there’s a lot, like you said, a lot of good stuff in this. I mean, if we can do some long term Medicaid reform, that’s a very big deal. So I’m withholding judgment right now, but I need to see a lot more information.
HH: It just seems to me that if we pass by the opportunity to do an entitlement reform for the first time in my lifetime, we are insane.
RJ: No, we can’t. First of all, we can’t, but we can’t rush into something that actually doesn’t work. So we’ve got to pass it, but we have to pass something that actually works, that repairs the damage done by Obamacare, and puts us on a glide path toward a system that really does work using free market principles, transferring you know, these decisions down to states, down to individuals. And again, a lot of what is in the House bill does that. But I’m still, you know, again, I want to see more information.
HH: It take a narrow gate, though. It’s up to the Senate, 51 votes. It’s not the House that is the problem here. It’s the Senate, and I saw the Portman-Murkowski-Capito letter. They’re the ones who are setting, the narrow gate is on your side of the house. Am I not correct in that, Senator Johnson?
RJ: Well, I think you have both chambers that are going to have issues. So you know, my suggestion is get information out here. Let’s start selling this. Let’s make sure we have the information we need. But let’s compare it to, you know, let’s lay out exactly how these health care markets are collapsing right now. What in this bill is going to prevent those health care markets from collapsing? What in this bill is going to actually bring down those premiums? Hugh, in Wisconsin, premiums on the individual market have doubled and tripled. What in this bill is going to bring those premiums down from those heights down to more affordable level? You know, again, I’m just not quite seeing that, yet. And also, we do need scoring on this. You know, how much is this going to cost? I mean, yeah, we’re paying a ransom to the states that expanded Medicaid. We didn’t do that in Wisconsin. We’ve got a governor that realized that that money tree isn’t real reliable in terms of the federal government. So he didn’t expand. Other states have, so you know, we’re going to pay, what, about a $10 billion dollar ransom to those states?
HH: Yeah, I get that. I get that.
RJ: Okay, I mean, I understand that, but you know, let me see the costing on this.
HH: I get that, but I just say a once in a lifetime opportunity to get rid of the medical device tax, to get rid of the mandate…
RJ: Oh, I know.
HH: …to get rid of the Cadillac tax, which will be killed by this.
RJ: Yeah, Hugh, this is why I ran for office, to undo, to undo the damage done by Obamacare and pass something that will actually work. And again, this, I’ve just seen this. I haven’t seen the full proposal. I’ve seen news reports on it. I haven’t seen the information that backs it up. I haven’t seen the score. And so you know, the way I would solve a problem, I get that information out there first.
HH: I hear you. I just want you to know I think there are a lot of, a lot of people got a lot of amplified noise yesterday from the Freedom Caucus, but I’m sitting here saying if the Republicans boot this up, they will lose their majorities, and rightfully so, if they gum this up. Now I do want to talk to you about something that isn’t gummed up. The Congressional Review Act is actually working, and the blacklisting rule is coming up. Would you explain what this is, because the CRA is a wonderful, wonderful thing, and the blacklisting rule looks like something that deserves to be killed forever.
RJ: And by the way, we passed that through the Senate, so it’s just waiting for President Trump’s signature. But I would call it the blackmailing rule. What this is, is this requires contractors to report any violation, or alleged violation on a host of labor laws. And so I would call it the blackmailing rule. And if you’ve got two seconds here, I’ll read the quote that was suggested to a union negotiator. He said putting it plainly, unless you settle the strike within the next few days, the union would drop this, you are likely to be marked as a repeat labor law offender, one of the highest categories of wrongdoing under the President’s order. Check this out with your hotshot legal team. Counting all this division, this corporation has federal contract in the hundreds of millions. Do you really want to jeopardize this pot of gold to save a few hundred thousand dollars in the union contract? That’s the kind of blackmail that this blacklisting rule would allow unions to exercise over innocent companies.
RJ: And so it was a terrible, terrible deal, $400 million dollars a year to comply with this. There’s no benefit other than to unions using that kind of blackmail leverage, just a huge cost on our economy.
HH: Now what’s interesting to me, Senator Johnson, is that repeal of that rule under CRA kicks in the forever ban. The CRA says if a rule comes before the House and Senate and it is rejected, that agency may never return to that subject matter again. Have you considered that any of our agencies can put forward false flag rules, rules which are sweeping left wing rules, but then the House and Senate working with simple majorities can reject them and bar future governments from going there?
RJ: Well, that’s one of the beauties of the CRA. Now we’ll see how absolute that is. You know, I mean, bureaucrats are pretty good at finagling around whatever law there is. But no, I think again, this is a powerful tool. I wish we were passing these faster. I wish, I’m the guy that suggested the Senate work 24/7. I think we’re going to do three or four of these this week. We could have done everything the House passed this week, so I’m going to continue to put pressure on leadership. Let’s work 24/7. Let’s start cranking these things out. About one every seven hours is about what we can do.
HH: When does Neil Gorsuch get confirmed, Senator Johnson?
RJ: I believe we’re hoping to get him confirmed before we go out on Easter break, but maybe it will be right after that, but as soon as possible. The Judiciary Committee’s going to have to hold hearings, and then hopefully a quick vote, and hopefully Democrats will recognize that this is a judge. This is somebody who’s certainly qualified to be a Supreme Court justice and to vote with us.
HH: And then going back to where we began, to the CIA spill and to the Russia connection, do you support an independent commission to investigate the Russia interference with our election or a special prosecutor? There are two different proposals out there. Do you support either or both of them?
RJ: It’s just the wrong time to be talking about it. Let’s let the Intelligence Committees complete their work. And I think you’re hearing across the board on a bipartisan basis they have confidence in each other. They’ll get to the bottom of this. If they come up with offenses that are prosecutable, then that can be turned over to the Justice Department, and then that determination can be made. But right now, let’s let the Intelligence Committees do their work. I think that’s the best place for this investigation to occur.
HH: And in Homeland Security, you’re working with Secretary Kelly, obviously. Mick Mulvaney told me the cost of the wall is between $8 and $24 million dollars per mile. Do you still support the construction of the wall, Ron Johnson?
RJ: Well again, I was in Israel, and they put up their fence, a pretty effective fence, for $2.9 million dollars. So you know, again, you’ve got to buy the land. There are additional costs involved in that, but I’d be happy to talk with OMB Director Mulvaney and see what his cost calculations are versus the Israelis.
HH: Yeah, it just seemed to me out of nowhere to come up with that kind of a number, and you’re a businessman. It just seemed to me to be crazy.
RJ: Well, again, President Trump was in the construction business. I’ve got a feeling he’s got a good way to negotiate a good deal on construction. So hopefully, that’s the case.
HH: Senator Ron Johnson, always good to talk to you. Thank you. I hope you get to work on the AHCA and get something that gets out of the Senate by the end of April, because boy, oh boy, we cannot boot Medicaid reform. Thank you, my friend.
RJ: Oh, we’ve got, we’ve got to do it right. Have a great day.
HH: Thank you, Senator.
End of interview.