The Capital Times, Madison, Oct. 9
Ron Johnson is choosing Trump over truth
It sure looks like Donald Trump lied to Ron Johnson. In August, after a U.S. diplomat told the senator from Wisconsin that the Trump administration was blocking almost $400 million in military aid to Ukraine as part of a scheme to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to launch the political investigations that the president was demanding, Johnson called Trump.
According to the senator's recollection of the Aug. 31 phone conversation, the president denied everything. "He said — expletive deleted — 'No way. I would never do that. Who told you that?'" Johnson told The Wall Street Journal. In a conversation with constituents in Sheboygan last week, Johnson explained that he was "surprised by the president's reaction and realized we had a sales job to do." But Trump wasn't buying. "I tried to convince him to give me the authority to tell President Zelenskiy that we were going to provide that (aid). Now, I didn't succeed."
As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted in its report on Johnson's comments, "Johnson made clear that he was aware of allegations Trump was withholding aid to Ukraine for political reasons weeks before the public knew of the accusation."
Johnson failed to speak up. But, less than a month after the senator and the president spoke, a whistleblower came forward with evidence that Trump had, indeed, pressured Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading potential challenger to Trump's 2020 presidential bid. Then, in a move that shocked even his defenders, Trump released detailed notes from a July phone conversation that confirmed the whistleblower's report. And with each passing day the evidence of wrongdoing has mounted against the president.
The concerns are so great that Trump now faces am impeachment inquiry, and responsible Republicans are speaking up. "By all appearances, the president's brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is wrong and appalling," says Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who explained (after Trump upped the ante with a call for a Chinese investigation of Biden) that "it strains credulity to suggest that it is anything other than politically motivated."
The group Republicans for the Rule of Law announced, "Trump may have suspected Joe Biden of corruption, but when the president pressured a foreign government to investigate an American citizen and political rival, he engaged in actual corruption. Whatever Biden did or didn't do can't excuse that." Michigan Congressman Justin Amash, who was elected as a conservative Republican but now sits as an independent, endorsed the impeachment inquiry and said of Trump, "He's openly challenging our system of checks and balances. In plain sight, he's using the powers of his public office for personal gain and counting on Republicans in Congress to look the other way."
So what does Ron Johnson have to say now?
He spent last week making excuses for the man who any reasonable person would conclude had lied to him. Johnson called Trump the nation's "chief law enforcement officer" and told WIBA radio, "We have proper agreements with countries to investigate potential crimes so I don't think there's anything improper about doing that."
When asked about his involvement in another key issue related to the scandal, Johnson became very conveniently forgetful.
Trump alleges that Biden, as the vice president, abused his position to try to get Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin fired as part of an effort to shut down an investigation of a gas company with which Biden's son Hunter was associated. But The New Yorker magazine reminds us that this is "a repeatedly discredited conspiracy theory." The reality is that Shokin faced allegations of corruption that troubled a lot of Americans, Republicans and Democrats, and that there was bipartisan support for his removal.
This is where Ron Johnson comes in. Back in 2016, Johnson joined other Republican senators in signing a letter urging "urgent reforms to the prosecutor general's office and judiciary." So the senator from Wisconsin knew the real story. Yet, when he was asked about the letter last week, Johnson said, "I send out all kinds of oversight letters ... I don't know which 2016 oversight letter you're referring to so I will look at that and then we'll issue a press release, statement, or something — but I don't engage in hypocrisy. I'm looking at getting the truth."
The truth is that Johnson is engaging in hypocrisy.
But it is worse than that. As NBC's Chuck Todd said after trying to get the senator to answer some basic questions. "Senator Johnson, please! Can we please answer the question that I asked you, instead of trying to make Donald Trump feel better here that you're not criticizing him?"
Todd asked that question as a journalist.
Wisconsinites should ask that question as voters. And, if they are honest with themselves, they will conclude that they are being ill-served by their senator.
Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, Oct. 9
At least 1 Republican in Wisconsin won't make excuses for Trump's bad behavior
If anyone has become the conscience of the Republican Party in Wisconsin during Donald Trump's chaotic and norm-shattering presidency, it's Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke.
The Kaukauna conservative has repeatedly expressed his opposition to the Republican president's most outlandish and dangerous behavior, including Trump's now-infamous phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. In the July 25 call, Trump pressured Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic candidate for president, and Biden's son Hunter, who had business dealings in the country. The president's request for a political favor — exposed by a whistleblower and subsequently outlined in a transcript released by the White House — has become the focus of an impeachment inquiry into whether Trump stalled military aid and a White House visit until Zelenskiy agreed to comply.
"A sitting president asking foreign powers to investigate fellow US citizens and political rivals should not, and cannot be normalized," Steineke replied to Trump on Twitter last week.
He's right. And more of his Republican colleagues should similarly object when the president so obviously abuses his power for blatant political gain.
Trump doubled down on foreign meddling in American democracy last week by publicly calling on China to investigate the Bidens for unsubstantiated allegations. The Bidens had conflicts of interest in Ukraine and elsewhere, but no evidence suggests they broke any laws.
Before that, the Mueller investigation established to nearly everyone's satisfaction — except Trump's — that the Russians interfered with the 2016 election to help Trump's bid, though not in coordination with Trump's campaign.
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"I fear that we have reached a point in our country's history where party loyalty trumps loyalty to the oaths we take as elected officials," Steineke tweeted Friday. "This is not a one-party problem. Faith in our leaders is at an all-time low, and who can blame our citizens?"
This is the same Jim Steineke who faulted Trump in July for telling four Democratic congresswomen of color to "go back" to the "crime-infested" and "most corrupt" and "inept" countries they came from. All of the congresswomen are American citizens, and three of them were born here. The crowd at a Trump rally subsequently chanted about Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota: "Send her back!"
"In the United States, we don't ... expel (our political opponents) from our borders b/c they have a different view of what our country is/should be, even if it is diametrically opposed to our own view," Steineke wrote.
This is the same Jim Steineke who called it "insanity" last fall for the president to imply that political considerations should have stopped his attorney general from indicting two Republican congressmen before an election.
It's the same Jim Steineke who defended one of Wisconsin's most iconic companies, Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, when Trump called for a boycott of the company because it blamed Trump's tariffs for lost jobs.
Steineke hasn't called for impeachment. Given that the House inquiry is still collecting evidence and weighing facts, that's an understandable position for him. But Steineke has stood up many times to Trump for the president's bad behavior.
By comparison, most Republican politicians in Wisconsin have been timid about questioning their haphazard president, including many with much more power than Steineke, such as U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh.
Johnson waffled on his view of Trump's calls for foreign meddling last week, then went to great lengths to avoid questions and defend Trump during a combative appearance on Sunday's "Meet the Press."
Trump does not have "an absolute right" and "duty," as he tweeted last week, "to ask foreign powers to intervene." Nor was his phone call with the Ukrainian president "perfect," as Trump absurdly claimed. His call was just the opposite.
Steineke is troubled by Trump's recklessness and is willing to say so.
More of his Republican colleagues from Wisconsin should say so too.
The Journal Times of Racine, Oct. 7
DNR finally able to get back to science
Today we'll give a shout out to climate change.
Or, at least, to studying it and its potential impact on Wisconsin's water, air and land and game resources.
The change we're talking about is in the political climate at the state Department of Natural Resources, the state agency most responsible for overseeing those resources and developing policies to shape Wisconsin's future.
After years of downplaying climate change study, dismantling the state agency's science bureau and staff cuts under the administration of former Gov. Scott Walker and state Republican legislative leaders, good science and environmental research has been taken out of the back closet at the DNR.
In a memo to all staff last month, DNR Secretary Preston Cole called climate change "one of the defining issues of our time" and said the state agency will once again focus on climate adaptation research and communication as well as working to lessen the damage.
"The DNR is entrusted to protect the people's resources and as a result we need to recognize the factors that drive change and must plan accordingly," Cole told staff. "From shifting weather patterns, increases in average temperature, higher frequency and intensity of rainfall to heavier snowfalls, the impacts of climate change directly impact Wisconsin."
Cole's initiative was underscored by Dreux Watermolen, chief of the DNR's environmental analysis bureau, who said understanding the changing climate is essential to the agency's stewardship of public resources.
"It would not be prudent to stock cold-water fish in habitats that are not going to be cold water. That would not be a good use of resources. It would not make sense to plant trees that in 50 years are not going to be in their range."
Cole and Watermolen are not alone in their views that government needs to assess climate change and its potential impacts. The U.S. military, at the direction of Congress, released a report earlier this year warning that scores of military bases faced significant risks from climate change — including problems with rising sea levels for coastal bases, increasingly severe weather, droughts and floods that pose a national security threat. And new research shows that climate change is reducing performance of military aircraft. Rises in heat and humidity mean military aircraft will not be able to carry as much payload or travel long distances without refueling.
We won't get into the debate here today whether climate change is man-caused or the result of natural fluctuations over long periods of time, but there is no question that changes in our environment could pose far-ranging problems for cities, the military — and for our natural world and its resources.
To adapt and address those issues requires knowledge of the potential impacts and our options — and for that we must rely on good science and studies to chart the course.
We welcome Secretary Cole's initiative to put scientific study and discussion back on the front burner to protect the state's natural resources.