Sen. Ron Johnson said Thursday he doesn't plan on holding "show trials" in his role as chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
But speaking about his agenda at a breakfast hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Wisconsin Republican said business interests needed to be vocal about defending themselves from the effects of "the radical left" taking more and more control during his lifetime.
"When you control our university system, when you control our education system, our news media, our entertainment media, unfortunately more and more of the courts, you really control our culture," Johnson said. "So, for the last 40 to 50 years, you know, business has gotten demonized, and it's wrong."
Johnson, who faces one of the most hotly contested re-election tests in 2016, had no shortage of barbs for President Barack Obama on foreign policy and the federal budget, but he emphasized that legislatively he wants to advance bills that can get at least 60 votes.
"We share the same goal as Americans. I don't care where you fall into the spectrum. We all want a prosperous and safe and secure America," Johnson said. "I don't question the other side's motives."
Johnson said with seven Democrats on the panel, legislation that can advance unanimously at least has a shot to actually pass the Senate. One example of his approach in this area is a permit-streamlining bill championed by GOP Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Democrat Claire McCaskill of Missouri.
The committee delayed consideration of the bill in order to try to resolve concerns that Johnson said were raised by the Office of Management and Budget with ranking member Thomas R. Carper, D-Del.
"Again, we're trying to create that process for getting bipartisan support, but also buy-in from the administration. It's not going to do us a whole lot of good if we come up with something in Congress and the administration is utterly opposed to it," Johnson said of the Portman-McCaskill measure. "If they've got some legitimate concerns, we're happy to modify the piece of legislation."
He also said he would encourage chamber members to bring up concerns about individual regulatory changes they might like to see, thinking a "rifle shot" approach might prove to be more practical that big overhaul legislation.
Johnson's planning an abundance of hearings on border security and other immigration issues, such as one taking place Thursday on oversight of the visa waiver program. Cybersecurity is a priority as well with Johnson indicating that he would be open to crafting some sort of compromise bill in his committee between the White House's draft proposal and a measure being considered Thursday in a closed session of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
He also cited as a priority an effort to untangle the web of congressional oversight that has long proven problematic for the Homeland Security Department, regardless of party. When the department was created in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the Senate's authorizing committees maintained jurisdiction over agencies that were combined to form the new cabinet department.
At the end of the day though, Johnson said he would consider his first year as the chairman to be successful if, in fact, the men and women who may be running for president are having to address his committee's issues on the campaign trail.
"We have big challenges in this nation and we've been burying our head in the sand, and we've been denying reality for far to long. We have to start acknowledging reality," Johnson said. "Even when it's pretty harsh, even when that reality's going to kick you right in the face. And the best place to do that is in the presidential election, because unless we have presidential leadership."
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