Ron Johnson: U.S. could be hurt by shunning trade deal with TPP countries

Ron Johnson: U.S. could be hurt by shunning trade deal with TPP countries

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U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said Wednesday that the national and state economies could suffer if the U.S. doesn’t join a global trade deal with countries that negotiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

They are among Johnson’s strongest comments yet to suggest he favors a trade deal with Trans-Pacific Partnership nations. The issue has divided free-trade Republicans in the 2016 campaign from their standard-bearer, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who opposes the partnership.

The comments from Johnson, R-Oshkosh, came in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal editorial board.

During the interview, Johnson also denied that he and other Republican U.S. senators are shirking their duty by refusing to vote to confirm President Barack Obama’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. He said he would vote against Garland’s confirmation if a vote were held.

Johnson repeatedly has declined to say if he supports the negotiated terms of the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, which would create new trade ties between the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim nations. His election challenger, Russ Feingold, a Middleton Democrat, opposes TPP and has chided Johnson for not taking a position on it.

At the same time, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has walked back her past support for TPP to now oppose its current terms. Trump has highlighted his opposition to the deal — a cornerstone of his presidential bid.

Johnson said Wednesday that “it’s incredibly important that overseas markets remain open to Wisconsin agriculture and manufacturing products.”

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Moments later in the interview, Johnson, in a reference to TPP, said he’s “more than happy to let the next president negotiate a better deal.”

“TPP represents about 40 percent of the world economy,” Johnson said, referring to the combined economies of nations included in the pact. “We don’t want to be on the outside looking in.”

Johnson also was pressed in the interview for his opposition to confirming Garland. Obama nominated the D.C. Circuit Court chief judge to fill the vacancy left by the Feb. 13 death of former conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. U.S. Senate Republicans have blocked hearings and a vote on Garland’s confirmation, saying the Scalia vacancy instead should be filled by the next president.

But Garland’s confirmation still could come to a vote if Clinton is elected president and renominates him. At least two Senate Republicans also have said they would confirm Garland if it becomes apparent Clinton will win the election or in the immediate aftermath of a Clinton win, on the grounds that it would keep Clinton from nominating a justice more liberal than Garland.

Johnson said Wednesday, as he has previously, that he believes Garland’s past judicial rulings show he would be hostile to Second Amendment rights.

“If there was a vote, I’ll be upfront, I would vote against Merrick Garland,” Johnson said.

Johnson added that nothing requires him or other senators to confirm Obama’s choice for the high court. The U.S. Constitution creates a system in which “we have two co-equal branches involved in confirmation of judges,” he said.“The President’s role is to nominate. The Senate’s role is advice and consent,” Johnson said. “We’re withholding our consent. We have fulfilled our constitutional role.”

In Tuesday night’s U.S. Senate debate, Feingold said Johnson’s refusal to consider Garland’s nomination disqualifies him from holding office.

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