Washington — Four years into his Senate career, the rapid rise of Ron Johnson to the ranks of committee chairs became official Thursday, with the Wisconsin Republican vowing to work across the aisle and show voters that his party and his institution can get things done.
“It’s been extremely interesting,” he said of his first four years, spent in the minority. “I’m hoping at this point now it starts to become more important.”
Johnson will chair the committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. He is the Senate’s only first-term chairman, the result mostly of GOP turnover on the committee, which is stacked with first-term Republicans. The panel’s three subcommittee chairs are also in their first term: Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rob Portman of Ohio and James Lankford of Oklahoma.
In an interview, Johnson reeled off his priorities for the panel. On the security side: border security, cybersecurity, protection of critical infrastructure and combating “homegrown terrorists.” On the oversight side: regulatory reform.
“There literally have got to be thousands of regulations where we can find areas of agreement with Democrat senators…where we can reduce the regulatory burden on businesses, even in blue states,” he said.
Johnson’s chairmanship will give him a role in how his party tries to counter President Barack Obama’s executive order to permit about 4 million illegal immigrants to work in the U.S. legally. Johnson is sponsoring a bill that seeks to take away funding used to implement the order.
Last fall, Johnson said his first priority on immigration was reforming the guest worker program, which was a hard sell among fellow Republicans who want to address border security before anything else.
Now Johnson says he will focus on border security first, saying that when the president issued his executive order on immigration, “the receptiveness on our side on guest workers pretty well ended…. It kind of hardened people’s positions.”
While he remains critical of the White House, Johnson says he is optimistic about relations between the parties in the Senate, now under GOP control.
“There is a great willingness on both sides of the aisle to just find agreement, and do things for your states and constituencies,” said Johnson, who is up for re-election in 2016. “Most members don’t come here to fight.”
Johnson vowed that Republicans would show voters they can govern as they hold both chambers of Congress heading into a presidential election cycle.
“It’s in our best interests as Republicans… to find the areas of agreement,” he said. “What the American people are looking for is certainly for people to cooperate…. Let’s lay the groundwork. Let’s show the American people we do have our act together, that we are willing to cooperate with the other side, we will work really hard to try to find those areas of agreement, and hopefully that will be rewarded with the election of a Republican president.”