On Tuesday, the US Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing on “early outpatient treatment” for Covid-19. You’d be forgiven for assuming this panel emphasized mask wearing, or urged social distancing, or embraced standard scientific treatments. After all, these are all recommendations endorsed by respected medical experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci.

But not this panel. That’s because this panel is chaired by Wisconsin’s very own US Senator Ron Johnson. And Ron Johnson instead exposed the US Senate and the American people to a panel peddling fringe science, discredited medical theories, and dubious health advice.

It wasn’t the first time Johnson undermined widely accepted medical science from his powerful committee perch. Nor is it the only example of how Wisconsin’s senior senator has subverted a coherent federal response to the pandemic. He has emerged as one of the most prolific Covid-minimizers in Washington,

  • downplaying the risk of fatality (“getting coronavirus is not a death sentence except for maybe no more than 3.4 percent of our population,” he said, seeming to accept the deaths of nearly 200,000 of his 5.8 million constituents);
  • speaking against mask mandates, when doctors say they can save lives;
  • falsely and dangerously claiming that the coronavirus curve was flattening, even as cases in Wisconsin surged;
  • and ignoring federal health guidance and potentially putting others at risk when he himself actually contracted the virus.

So Tuesday’s hearing was very much on Covid-dismissing brand for Ron Johnson. But what is perplexing, from a senator who fancies himself a business and finance expert, is his failure to understand how sidelining real science and medicine is crippling the economy.

The virus is real and it kills. More Wisconsinites have died from Covid-19 than all the Americans who perished in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. So far, 434,016 fellow Wisconsinites have been diagnosed, 19,162 hospitalized, and more than 4,041 of our neighbors have tragically passed.

The virus threatens people’s livelihoods as well as their lives. The latest jobs report revealed a stunning 10 million fewer people employed now than when the pandemic began. According to a National Federation of Independent Business study earlier this year, about 20 percent of small businesses fear they will be forced to shutter permanently by early next year unless the economy improves.

These are our neighbors struggling desperately to make rent or mortgage payments, keep businesses afloat, and pay bills—and they’ve absolutely done nothing wrong. As we follow the science to overcome this deadly virus, we must provide substantial support to workers, small businesses, and families suffering economically.

Now, Johnson has always preferred big tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy over helping middle-class and low-income people. But his vote against the CARES relief package, which included paid sick and family leave for people tending to children and relatives, and his opposition to “spending a dime more” on economic relief earlier this year reveals a glaring misunderstanding of how much people are suffering in this crisis right now—and how his embrace of junk science is making the economy worse.

So, with just days left before the Senate adjourns, with relief running out at the end of the year and congressional stimulus talks deadlocked, our senior senator spotlights vaccine skeptics—but not the millions of workers behind on rent and terrified of eviction.

He provides a forum for fringe doctors to push quack medicines that may actually harm you physically—but not for the working parents who need paid family sick to care for loved ones.

He elevates radicals who undercut public faith in proven health methods like mask wearing while instead endorsing toilet cleaning—but not the single mom who lost one job and is scraping by on two others to save a fragile family budget.

This peanut gallery hawking questionable theories and treatments didn’t deserve a voice in the US Senate. The panel Ron Johnson should have convened was one that featured our Wisconsin neighbors who are hurting from the economic shock that burst from nowhere, and is not their fault.

Then he could have heard firsthand about the urgent need to get regular Wisconsinites back to work safely, provide stimulus relief to those that need it, and update the payroll protection program to ensure that funds go to small businesses that are struggling.

“We have grossly overreacted to this,” Johnson said of the nation’s pandemic response, as the national death toll passed 285,000. The millions of Americans who did nothing wrong, yet find themselves out of work and facing eviction and a mountain of bills, would probably disagree.

If Ron Johnson would only invite these folks to his Senate committee, he would hear that message from them directly.