FRI PM Update: Johnson says he hopes Trump’s Mexico tariff threat just a leverage tactic; Dem convo preview

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— U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said today he hopes President Trump’s threat to impose tariffs on Mexican goods over illegal immigration is a just tactic to gain leverage over Mexico and Democrats in reaching a solution. But he warned new tariffs could complicate trade agreement talks if they go into effect.

Speaking at a Press Club luncheon in Milwaukee, the Oshkosh Republican said the president raised the issue with him last Thursday during a meeting on Ukraine.

“My first reaction was, if you use it as leverage to get agreement either with Mexico or Democrats to solve the problem, I’ll consider it,” Johnson said.

But he noted the president is aware of his view that tariffs are a tax on U.S. consumers and “long-term, I’m not a supporter of tariffs.”

He added later that along with existing tariffs on aluminum and steel, new tariffs would put reaching a new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement at risk.

“Hopefully they never get put in place,” Johnson said. “Hopefully Mexico stands up and steps up to the plate and starts enacting real policy to stem the flow.”

He noted the Mexican foreign minister came to Washington, D.C. today to discuss the issue.

“It’s obviously gotten their attention,” Johnson said.

Also during the luncheon, Johnson described a pilot plan that he is working on with a bipartisan group of lawmakers that would allow those coming from Central America who clearly don’t have valid asylum claims to be quickly flown back home.

He said the aim of the plan, dubbed “Operation Safe Return,” is to deter those seeking to come to the U.S. for economic reasons, which puts them at risk of exploitation by human traffickers and can cost migrants as much as a year’s pay.

Johnson also said he spoke with the Mexican ambassador and foreign minister several weeks ago and asked them to enter an agreement with the U.S. so those seeking asylum from Central America could remain in Mexico, or be placed there after entering the U.S.

“That would be a huge deterrent,” Johnson said. “The bottom line is if you’re really fleeing danger, seeking asylum, you should be seeking the first country which is safe, and that would be Mexico.”

But Johnson also acknowledged Americans’ “insatiable appetite for drugs” has contributed to the influx in illegal immigration and that the manufacturing and dairy industries rely on immigrant labor to meet production demands.

“We have a shortage of labor, but it has to be a legal process,” Johnson said.

Also during the luncheon, Johnson discussed: the Mueller report and investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election; the GOP tax cuts, which he said have largely paid for themselves when state revenue increases are taken into account; the national debt; health care; and the future of the Republican Party in Wisconsin.

Listen to the audio:

— Joint Finance will meet Tuesday to take up Medicaid, one of the remaining big topics for the committee to tackle.

The committee, which is scheduled to convene at 1 p.m., plans to take up:

Health Services –Medical Assistance
Health Services –Medicaid Services Administration
Health Services –Public Health
Health Services –FoodShare
Health Services –Behavioral Health
Health Services –Departmentwide and Quality Assurance
Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board
Children and Families –Economic Support and TANF-Funded Programs
Children and Families –Child Welfare Services
Children and Families –Child Support
Children and Families –Departmentwide

The offices of the co-chairs said the committee also plans to meet Thursday.

The Tuesday agenda still leaves transportation and taxes for the committee to finish. If JFC doesn’t take them up next week, it would have to finish the items the week of June 10 to meet the goal of having the budget done at the conclusion of that week so it can be drafted and on the floor of both houses the last week of June.

See the hearing notice:

— The Wisconsin Hospital Association is pushing lawmakers “to at least” match Gov. Tony Evers’ plan to pump an additional $68.2 million in state dollars over the budget into reimbursing hospitals that serve a large number of Medicaid patients.

Under Evers’ plan, that would result in a net increase of $165 million in reimbursements for hospitals that serve a high number of MA recipients and low-income patients, as well as those who qualify for the rural critical care program, according to a memo the group sent lawmakers.

Evers, however, helped fund some of that through his proposal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Republicans pulled Medicaid expansion from the budget earlier this month. That move would have saved the state $324.5 million in general purpose revenue and was the centerpiece Evers’ health care plan.

Republicans, though, would have to find additional GPR through other means after nixing the expansion.

To make its case for the investment, the WHA wrote in the memo the state is among the worst in the country for reimbursing expenses for treating Medicaid patients, resulting in a shift of $1.1 billion in costs to Wisconsin businesses and families through their health care costs.

The WHA memo says $324 million was “skimmed” from hospital assessments and used to fund other state spending, noting those revenues helped generate a Medicaid surplus in the current fiscal year of $234 million.

Considering those factors and the state’s influx of cash expected for the upcoming biennium, “WHA asks for your support to use new and existing revenues to increase Medicaid reimbursement for hospitals and reduce Medicaid cost-shifting to employers and families.”

Read the memo:

— The Joint Finance Committee has so far cut $781.5 million in general purpose revenue from what Gov. Tony Evers originally proposed spending, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

When all funds are included, the total spending cuts to date jumps to nearly $1.9 billion, according to the agency.

LFB Director Bob Lang said the agency has been tracking JFC actions and updating its tally daily. He shared the numbers with after being asked for an update on the committee’s actions.

Still, he said LFB has not calculated how much the committee can still spend between its actions to date and the latest revenue projections, which upped the state’s bottom line by $753 million earlier this month.

— LFB also is projecting the state will take in $22.6 million more in transportation revenues through mid-2021 than previously expected, thanks to higher projections for motor fuel tax collections.

LFB compiled the projection earlier this month but didn’t publicly distribute the memo. The agency posted it to its website this week after inquired about the projections.

The estimate is based on current law and doesn’t include the guv’s proposal to increase the gas tax.

LFB noted in the memo the administration had earlier projected fuel consumption and revenues to increase by 0.4 percent annually for 2018-19 through 2020-21.

Instead, they are now expected to increase by 1.3 percent in 2018-19, accounting for $10 million of the expected revenue boost.

They are then projected to increase 0.2 percent in 2019-20 and 0.1 percent in 2020-21.

Read the memo:

— AG Josh Kaul today announced the state has settled a lawsuit challenging a Walker-era right-to-work measure that sought to allow employees to cancel automatic payroll deductions for union dues.

As part of the settlement, 2015 Act 1 — the law which gave Wisconsin union workers the choice to opt out of so-called “dues checkoff authorization” after just 30 days — has been permanently enjoined.

The International Association of Machinists challenged the legality of the measure. And a trial court ruled that the 30-day period violated the Labor Management Relations Act. Federal law governing unions mandates a one-year period before dues checkoffs can be revoked.

After a federal appeals court sided with the trial court, former Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court in the waning days of his tenure.

But the DOJ dropped the appeal in April without offering further comment. Kaul announced today that the parties had reached a settlement to permanently bar enforcement of law unless the U.S. Supreme Court overrules a prior decision on dues checkoffs.

“This resolution is in the best interests of taxpayers, working families, and the State of Wisconsin,” said Kaul in a statement.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, ripped Kaul for the settlement, calling him a “political puppet for the far left.”

“Our Attorney General is shirking his duty to defend state law in order to appease liberal interest groups,” Vos said. “It’s becoming clear Josh Kaul will undermine, not defend, state law.”

See the release:

— The two candidates to become the next Dem state chair — Rep. David Bowen and former senior adviser Ben Wikler — both say the party needs to do a better job of competing with its GOP counterpart.

They each, though, have a slightly different emphasis.

In separate interviews with this week, both candidates were asked to identify the party’s biggest weakness.

Bowen, D-Milwaukee, said he’d like to see the party do a better job of going into “red” areas of Wisconsin rather than focusing so much on Madison and Milwaukee. He also believes the party needs to rebuild its credibility with communities of color by showing up more than just around election time.

Wikler said the party has “an enormous wealth” of energy, experience and resilience from its recent fights in the state. Still, he said the party has fallen behind the GOP in how it organizes and provides information to the grassroots.

Wikler said he would try to take the party to “the very cutting edge of how to win elections in the 21st century” if elected.

“Democrats should be leapfrogging Republicans when it comes to text messages, social media and data, rather than struggling to catch up,” Wikler said.

Bowen and Wikler both said they would want to see the party compete in every legislative seat next fall, not just the ones where they’d have a better chance of winning. Wikler said letting Republicans run up margins in red counties would result in President Trump winning Wisconsin again, pointing out Waukesha County has the third most number of Dem voters in the state despite voting reliably for Republicans as a whole.

Bowen, though, says the party has focused too much on the state’s “blue” areas, leading to divisions. Focusing on areas such as Madison and Milwaukee, he said, can be just enough to get over the top in a statewide race.

But he said it leads to people feeling neglected when the party doesn’t do a better job of trying to turn out Dems no matter where they live. Likewise, he said the party needs a more regular presence with minority voters.

“We know in certain areas of the state they are the only ones that have a message and ground game,” Bowen said of Republicans. “There are a number of communities, especially communities of color, when they are given access to engagement and support, it’s at the very, very, very last minute. We are having transactional conversations with folks and people are only expecting us to come around at election time, and it kills our credibility in those areas with those communities.”

Voting in the chair’s race runs from 8 a.m. to noon Sunday with the party hoping to announce a winner by early afternoon. Only delegates are allowed to vote, and some 1,800 have expressed an interest in attending the convention, according to a party spokeswoman.

But fewer than that are expected to cast ballots. In 2017, when outgoing Chair Martha Laning won re-election during a convention in Middleton, there were about 1,400 votes.

Laning said she isn’t endorsing in the race. Gov. Tony Evers and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, also aren’t publicly backing either candidate.

Listen to the Bowen interview:

Listen to the Wikler interview:

Follow this weekend’s convention in the Dem Convention Blog:

— Justice Daniel Kelly is doing a June 18 fundraiser at the Wisconsin Firearms Training Center in Brookfield that includes GOP state Reps. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, and Joe Sanfelippo, R-New Berlin, as among the hosts.

Donations for the event range from $100 to attend up to $5,000 to qualify as a “50 Cal M2HB” host. The designation refers to a large caliber machine gun.

Others listed on the host committee include Keith Best, who retired from his job as a GOP legislative aide earlier this year after an unauthorized tweet from the account for Rep. Barbara Dittrich, R-Brookfield, during an Assembly debate over a Black History Month resolution. The tweet read, “Colin Kapernick wore socks depicting police as pigs. Flags are flying at half-staff for a murdered policeman. Are you kidding me????”

Kelly hasn’t yet announced any campaign hires. But Colleen Coyle is listed as the fundraising contact for the event. She did fundraising for Justice-elect Brian Hagedorn’s campaign this spring and has worked for Gov. Scott Walker in the past.

See a flyer on the fundraiser:

(Check local listings for times in your area)

“UpFront” is a statewide commercial TV news magazine show airing Sundays around the state. This week’s show, hosted by ADRIENNE PEDERSEN, features U.S. Sen. TAMMY BALDWIN, D-Madison, on what Dems should do next regarding President TRUMP and the Mueller report; Marcus Corporation CEO GREG MARCUS on new interest in Milwaukee following the Bucks’ playoff run and the Democratic National Convention coming in 2020; and WISN 12’s MATT SMITH goes to Janesville to city how the city has rebounded 10 years after the GM plant shut down.

*See viewing times in state markets here:
*Also view the show online each Monday at

“Rewind,” a weekly show from WisconsinEye and, airs at 8 p.m. on Fridays and 10 a.m. on Sundays in addition to being available online. On this week’s episode,’s JR ROSS and WisconsinEye’s STEVE WALTERS discuss the latest on Joint Finance Committee actions and Justice DANIEL KELLY announcing plans to run for a full 10-year term, as well as a look ahead to the Dem state convention.
*Watch the show:

Wisconsin Public TV’s “Here and Now” airs at 7:30 p.m. Fridays.

“For the Record” airs at 10:30 a.m. Sunday on WISC-TV in Madison. Host NEIL HEINEN will speak with RENEE MOE, United Way of Dane County, and BOB SORGE, Madison Community Foundation, on their unique partnership.

“Capital City Sunday” airs at 9 a.m. Sunday on WKOW-TV in Madison, WAOW-TV in Wausau, WXOW-TV in La Crosse and WQOW-TV in Eau Claire. This week’s guests include IAN COXHEAD, of UW Agricultural & Applied Economics, and MARK COPELOVITCH, UW Dept. of Political Science, along with state Treasurer SARAH GODLEWSKI.


AB 251: Requiring marketplace providers to collect and remit sales tax from third parties and reducing individual income tax rates based on the collection of sales and use tax from out-of-state retailers and marketplace providers. Referred to Committee on Ways and Means.

Track bills for free:

Journal Sentinel: GOP isn’t considering gas tax increase but may boost fees, Wisconsin Senate leader says

AP: Study: Wisconsin will need to attract more educated workers

WPR: Judge Rejects Shopko’s Bankruptcy Plan

Politico: How Trump’s Mexico tariffs could scare Democrats away from his trade deal

New York Times: Elizabeth Warren Wants Congress to Ensure Presidents Can Be Indicted

Washington Post: What is Mexico doing — and not doing — to keep migrants from crossing into the U.S.?–and-not-doing–to-keep-migrants-from-crossing-into-the-u-s/2019/05/31/e007a344-83a3-11e9-b585-e36b16a531aa_story.html

CNN: Trump holds firm on Mexico tariffs despite Republican dissent

POLITICO: Trump’s two-front trade war triggers alarms

POLITICO: Judge blocks Missouri from closing lone abortion clinic


– 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.: Democratic Party of Wisconsin State Convention.

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