Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s time at the helm of the powerful Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is in its final days, the beginning of the end of a chapter marked by several high-profile investigations that stoked partisan tensions.
When Democratic Sens.-elect Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of Georgia are sworn into Congress, which could happen before the month is out, Democrats will take control of the U.S. Senate from Republicans. The power shift will require GOP senators to give up chairperson seats in legislative committees.
For Johnson, that means the end of a six-year tenure leading the Homeland Security Committee and his power to set the agenda of a body that can conduct government-backed investigations.
During Johnson’s chairmanship, the committee held hearings and conducted investigations into divisive issues including the integrity of the 2020 presidential election, allegations of political influence within the U.S. Postal Service and the political and private business dealings of President-elect Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
Barry Burden, professor of political science at University of Wisconsin-Madison, said Johnson’s strong allegiance to President Donald Trump, as well as his position within the Senate majority and chairmanship of a powerful committee, positioned him squarely in the national spotlight.
“That combination has been really effective for him for the last several years and has given him a national platform,” Burden said. “And now he’s essentially losing all of that.”
Before pro-Trump extremists violently stormed the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, Johnson had repeatedly expressed interest in further investigation into the integrity of the 2020 presidential election, despite federal and local officials’ repeated statements that no evidence of fraud has been uncovered, as well as dozens of failed legal challenges brought by Trump and his allies.
Burden pointed out the Senate power shift will bar Johnson from pursuing such an investigation.
However, he noted the Senate gives its members several ways to surface pet issues — they can use the filibuster to grandstand on a subject or introduce an amendment that derails debate on a bill.
“That’s really the kind of role (Johnson is) going to be relegated to, sort of a gadfly, causing trouble for the Democratic leadership,” Burden said.
That role could help Johnson win re-election in 2022, Burden said, if the senator chooses to seek another six-year term.
“He will have an enemy in the White House, essentially, as a foil for his campaign,” he said. “And that’s likely to be more effective, given the historic patterns, unless things go remarkably well for the Biden administration.”
For Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, the shift in party control could mean she takes the helm of a Senate committee. She currently serves on the Appropriations Committee, Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
Burden argued Baldwin is well-positioned to take on more responsibility under the new administration.
“Certainly the issues she has focused on during her career, including things like health care and the environment, are going to be really prominent during the Biden administration,” Burden said.
Burden also noted Baldwin seems to have a good working relationship with Biden. She was widely believed to be on the shortlist to serve as Biden’s vice presidential nominee.
“I think it’s going to make her a more important player in Washington,” Burden said of the impending power shift. “She’s likely to be a more important facilitator of the Democrats’ agenda in the Senate.”