MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said Friday that all schools in Wisconsin should open for in-person instruction in the fall, even as the coronavirus pandemic shows signs of resurgence across the state.
“It would be crazy to not completely reopen our school systems,” Johnson said during a virtual question-and-answer session with journalists organized by the Milwaukee Press Club.
Johnson, addressing a wide range of topics, also said after concerns about how he handled the pandemic, that the greatest threat to President Donald Trump winning reelection in November is the president himself. To win, Johnson said, Trump should focus on his plan for rebuilding the economy that has been tipped into a recession by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I realize he rubs people the wrong way,” Johnson said. “I know a New York street fighter doesn’t go over well with every voter in the state of Wisconsin.”
Recent polls, including one from the Marquette University Law School this week, show Trump trailing Democrat Joe Biden in Wisconsin. Polls at this point four years ago also showed Trump trailing Hillary Clinton. Trump carried Wisconsin by fewer than 23,000 votes.
Johnson, who participated in the event virtually from his home in Sheboygan, said he was concerned about a resurgence of COVID-19 as reports show new case numbers continue to grow.
“Personally, I take this disease very seriously,” Johnson said. “I recommend everyone does that.”
Still, Johnson said he thought schools could safely reopen in the fall, saying the risk to children is low. He said the economic and “human” toll of not doing that is too great. He also said most businesses can safely operate, but limits should be placed on venues such as bars where the virus can be easily transmitted.
The state may have to order more closures again, Johnson said, but if it comes to that “the governor really needs to work with the Legislature this time unlike he did last time.”
Gov. Tony Evers ordered the closure of nearly all non-essential businesses in March, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court in May ended the order, siding with Republicans who argued it was an illegal overreach of power.
Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said people should not count on there being a vaccine for COVID-19 any time soon.
“We’re going to have to learn to live with COVID-19,” he said.
On other topics:
— Johnson rejected the notion of widespread racism among police. “Is racial discrimination systemic throughout law enforcement? I doubt it,” he said. “Are there bad cops? Yes.”
— He said whether Republicans maintain control of the Senate and Trump wins reelection will influence his decision on whether to seek a third term in 2022 or run for governor. Johnson repeated what he has said in the past — that his preference would be to not seek a third term and “stay home.”
— Johnson was “looking forward” to reading the tell-all book by former National Security Adviser John Bolton. “I think it will be a pretty good insight into history,” Johnson said. “I think there will be an awful lot of interesting revelations about what happened.”
— He was critical of protesters tearing down statues of historical figures as happened outside the Wisconsin Capitol this week. “There’s legitimate concern and there can be a process for taking a look at anything,” he said. “It should be a process, it shouldn’t be a mob. They shouldn’t tear these things down. I am concerned about erasing our past.”