Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson joined me this morning:
HH: I’m always pleased to welcome Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson back to the program. Senator, how are you?
RJ: Real good, Hugh, how about yourself?
HH: I am great. I want to tell you very quickly, though, I’ve been talking the first hour about Democrats’ attempt to wound Andy Puzder. Andy’s a friend of mine. If he comes to a vote and a Republican doesn’t vote for him, they’re never coming back on this show. What do you think is the situation concerning Andy Puzder?
RJ: I love the guy. I’ve been listening to his, I’ve been reading his articles in the Wall Street Journal for a number of years on issues of, you know, how many jobs we destroyed by the minimum wage, just kind of laying out the reality of that fact. So I think he’s the perfect guy for the job.
HH: Perfect. Will you please tell your caucus friends to stand up tall on this? I am tired of our guys and our gal, Betsy DeVos getting bled to death. I guess she gets a vote at Noon today. She’s going to be confirmed, isn’t she?
RJ: Well, I just got off, I was just presiding for the last two and a half hours of their…
HH: Oh, you poor man.
RJ: …talking overnight, and just, it’s ridiculous the charges they’re leveling at her. What I’ve been telling my own Republican colleagues, anybody who’s wavering on any of these nominees, is go back in time in terms of what you said in terms of President Obama’s nominees. You know, I don’t know how many Republican Senators I’ve heard say elections matter. Presidents really deserve a great deal of latitude, great deference in surrounding themselves with advisors that agree with them. And how many of President Obama’s nominees did you vote to confirm? You know, how much did you disagree with them on different issues? Don’t hold President Trump to a higher standard. So from my standpoint, unless there’s some nominee that’s so flawed that the nominee would have to be withdrawn, I don’t see anybody like that.
HH: Good, good, good.
RJ: I mean, everyone ought to get 52 Republican votes. That’s my point.
HH: Please go into that caucus and tell them people are watching, not just me, but other people are watching. If they turn on Puzder, boy, oh, boy, every franchiser and every franchisee in their state’s going to remember that one. Let me talk to you a little bit about repair and replace. First of all, Senator, I sent my book, The Fourth Way, to every Republican up at the retreat. Did you get your copy?
RJ: I was not at that retreat. Well, no, I was at that retreat. I did not get my copy, no, Hugh. I did not see it.
HH: Oh, my gosh. This is, I am blaming Generalissimo for that. I’ll send you one, Senator. People are wondering, where is repair and replace? This is why you originally got sent six years ago and reelected in an upset, is because of Obamacare, in my humble opinion. What’s going on with repeal and replace?
RJ: Well, first of all, Republicans are absolutely dedicated to repealing, dismantling and repairing all the damage done by Obamacare. So I think a lot of people are getting hung up on words. Here’s the reality, Hugh. Obamacare now has been seven years in the making. It was passed in March, 2010, you know, four years getting ready to implement it. It’s been implemented for three years. It went from about 380,000 words to over 20 million. You know, the tentacles of Obamacare have wound themselves around our health insurance markets and our health provider markets. This is a beast, and it’s going to take time to dismantle. It’s going to be complex. So I think that’s, some of us are just kind of pointing this thing out that this isn’t quite so easy as just you know, a quick vote and magically we fix all these markets. There’s been a lot of damage done, and that’s going to take some time to unravel and repair.
HH: Now I am of the opinion that you can vote a death date. You could actually, via reconciliation, say every word of Obamacare is repealed by, say, August 1, 2018, and that gives you 18 months to come up with a replacement. Some Republicans want the replacement in place before they give a death date. I think that is a political disaster. What’s your opinion?
RJ: Well, I think you have to really, again, you’re making assumptions what we can do with 51 votes, which I think is a legitimate discussion and debate. I think we should press the parliamentarian far harder than we already have. And I think it’s also a legitimate debate to determine what we ought to do with Senate rules. But currently, using 51 votes, about all repealed when we first voted for this was the taxes and subsidies. And the real problem with Obamacare is literally all the market reforms, I would call them the market distortions, that have caused premiums to skyrocket, in Wisconsin, on the individual market, by doubling and tripling. Now let’s face it. The President of the United States says he likes the whole guaranteed issue – preexisting conditions. That accounts for about 50% of those premium increases. You know, the kids keeping, or young adults staying on the policy up to 26 years, hardly effects premium rates. So we need the information, we need to take a look at these things. And there’ll be some healthy debate. This is not, again, this is going to be complex. But from my standpoint, I think the way this thing rolls out is you first confirm Tom Price as the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Obamacare gives him in those 20 million words a lot of discretion. And what he can do, he should do that. I mean, we’ll use executive authority to start the dismantling process. Once we find out how far he’s gone, I think we then, we really have a better basis for knowing what we need to enact in law, you know, what we need to over-regulate and what we need to over-legislate.
HH: But the thing, and I think you said the magic words. Getting rid of the mandate, getting rid of the tax penalty, and getting rid of what you can via reconciliation, I think is urgently necessary to deliver on the campaign promise. Some of your colleagues don’t want to do anything until everything is done. In that way lies doom, and I think rebellion by the Republicans, and the opportunity that 25 Democrats versus 8 republicans being up in now 22 months presents. What do you think?
RJ: Yeah, but again, I just think people are talking about the complexity, and it is complex. But you know, we did pass in the Senate a budget that sets out that reconciliation process to do exactly what you’re talking about.
HH: Good, good, good.
RJ: So you know, I really do wish people would take a look at what we have accomplished in this election, do a little celebrating, and we’ve saved the Supreme Court. That’s kind of a big thing here. We are starting with the Congressional Review Act. We’re starting to actually repeal some of these harmful regulations to reduce that regulatory burden. We’re going to work on the complexity of Obamacare. Nobody is backing away from repealing, dismantling this incredibly collapsing system, this incredibly harmful law. But the fact of the matter is, seven years, 20 million words in the making, it is complex.
HH: Faster, faster, faster, that’s all I’m saying. Let’s talk about the Supreme Court for a second. The nomination of Neil Gorsuch is an incredible home run. The Leader came on, the Whip came on, John Thune came on, Charles Grassley came on. They won’t tell me if they will vote to kill the filibuster if necessary. They all just say he will be confirmed. Now Ron Johnson, you’re a businessman. I know what that means. You know what that means. That means the filibuster is dead if they block it. Do you agree with that?
RJ: Well, there’s potentially other ways we can get Judge Gorsuch confirmed, but you know, the great thing about him, Judge Gorsuch, Hugh, is he’s a judge. I mean, he actually says things. His role is to apply the law, not alter it. So that’s why I think everybody’s so really overjoyed with this appointment. He’s just probably the best pick.
HH: Yeah, he is.
RJ: So he’s going to get confirmed. He’s going to get confirmed.
HH: There are other people as qualified as he is, but there is no one more qualified than he is, and I think you might get a Justice Kennedy retirement as a result of this. And then, we will be back to this filibuster issue. So Ron Johnson, in front of God and the world, have you had conversations with your caucus members about killing this thing off, the filibuster?
RJ: Well, first of all, it’s just not, it shouldn’t be the first point of discussion here. There are other ways we can do this. I do think you need to very carefully consider the next step if you go to reducing the threshold on legislation from 60 votes to 51 votes, long term how that can affect our ability to stop really bad legislation on the part of the Democrats. So this is a, this is a larger discussion. Judge Gorsuch will get confirmed.
HH: All right, I’m not in favor of, I actually want you to rebuild the filibuster according to smarter rules. I wrote a column about that in the Washington Post not long ago and have signed on as a Post columnist just so I can press that. But there’s no doubt in my mind, I just want to hammer this down…
HH: None, he’s going to get confirmed?
RJ: No, just like when we said we will not allow the Supreme Court to flip before the election, when Mitch McConnell came out and said let the American people decide. We all knew what that meant. We all held strong. We didn’t allow the Supreme Court to flip. We rolled the dice. We won the election, saved the Supreme Court. Trust me. We didn’t go through all that not to confirm a judge, somebody like Judge Gorsuch. He’ll be confirmed.
HH: And then let’s talk about the 9th Circuit, which is weighing the President’s executive order. I’m stunned by the ruling of the district court. I was, it was unfortunate the President attacked the judge. That’s not appropriate. It is neither prudent nor appropriate, I might add. But the 9th Circuit is the 9th Circuit. They’re not going to remove the stay. They’re a bunch of liberals, and I know the 9th Circuit. I live out here. I’ve argued before the 9th Circuit. But just as a Senator, you’re a co-equal branch of government. You know what authority you’ve given the President. Are you surprised the 9th Circuit is standing in the way of his restrictions on immigration from those seven countries?
RJ: Yeah, I mean, based on what I know about the law, and I didn’t give the President this authority. The prior Congresses did. The President has a great deal of latitude when it comes to refugees. I mean, the President chooses how many he allows in the country every year with consultation of the Congress. Basically, he makes the decision, and he tells us. And so he can tell exactly how, he can set the level at zero. He could deny no refugees coming to this country. So again, I was pretty well shocked at the ruling, but I agree with you. You know, we have three co-equal branches. I think you need to respect that. I kind of have your opinion about the 9th Circuit as well, so it’s going to take some time. Here’s the good news, though. Secretary Kelly will continue with the evaluation of what, how we should vet, what the criteria ought to be for letting refugees into this country. So that review process will continue, even though the ban has been stayed for the time being.
HH: 30 seconds, Senator Johnson, Secretary Kelly, former General Kelly, well, General Kelly, now Secretary Kelly, pretty impressive guy, isn’t he?
RJ: Unbelievable. Four star general, Gold Star parent, unbelievable that 11 Democrats would vote against his confirmation, perfect man for the job.
HH: Yeah, it’s mind-boggling to me what you have to deal with every day. I could not work in the United States Senate. Ron Johnson, come back early and often, one of our favorite Senators. Lead the fight for Andy Puzder, Senator.
End of interview.