President Joe Biden has rolled out a COVID-19 vaccine mandate affecting about 80 million American workers.

Biden is ordering all businesses and other organizations with 100 or more employees to make sure those employees either become vaccinated or are tested weekly for the disease.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., says he is outraged by what he views as a massive government overreach.

Vaccine mandates “are freedom-robbing,” Johnson says. “They’re unbelievably coercive.”

“I’ve always thought that nobody should be pressured, coerced, or fear reprisal for refusing any medical treatment, including the COVID vaccine,” Johnson adds. “But we’ve just turned our society, our laws, our ethics on their head during this pandemic. It’s time for Americans to reclaim their freedom.”

Johnson joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss what he and congressional colleagues plan to do about Biden’s largest vaccine mandate, as well as to share some stories of Americans who have been affected by side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines.

We also cover these stories:

  • The Biden administration formally announces its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for many private employers.
  • Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Dr. Anthony Fauci get into another heated exchange during a Senate committee hearing.
  • Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler calls for over $5 million in additional police department funding nearly a year after Oregon’s largest city cut its police budget in response to protests and riots.

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.

Doug Blair: Our guest today is Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican who is the senior senator from Wisconsin. Senator, thank you so much for joining us today.

Sen. Ron Johnson: Glad to be here.

Blair: Senator, let’s talk about vaccine mandates. The Biden administration announced today that it would be pursuing a federal COVID vaccine mandate through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, also known as OSHA, that requires companies with 100-plus employees to have all employees vaccinated or to have some sort of testing regime in place where they would have to prove that they had a negative test. What do you think of that mandate, to start out with?

Johnson: I’m utterly opposed. They are pointless.

I held an event on vaccine mandates and vaccine injuries on Tuesday, and one of the presenters had a very simple decision tree. The top box said, “Are the COVID-19 vaccines effective?” If you follow the “yes” line down to the second box, well, then they’re pointless, right? The vaccines are effective. What do you care whether somebody else is vaccinated? If you follow the “no” line down to the exact same box, it’s also true. And unfortunately, it’s the “no” line that is operative right now.

The science tells us that even fully vaccinated individuals can get infected, they can transmit, they can get seriously ill, they can die, unfortunately. So that’s the science. That’s the reality.

So what’s the point of the mandate? Particularly in light of the fact when you understand how destructive they are going to be to people’s lives, forcing people into gut-wrenching, life-altering decisions between a livelihood, taking care of their family, and putting an experimental vaccine in their arm that we do not know the long-term safety profile. We do not. Anybody that tells you that they know these things are perfectly safe is lying to you. Nobody knows that because we haven’t had the time.

So, again, they are pointless. They are freedom-robbing. They’re unbelievably coercive. I’ve always thought that nobody should be pressured, coerced, or fear reprisal for refusing any medical treatment, including the COVID vaccine, but we’ve just turned our society, our laws, our ethics on their head during this pandemic. It’s time for Americans to reclaim their freedom.

Blair: One of the things that you’ve pursued now, Fox News is reporting that you, along with 41 other Republican senators, are planning to “disapprove and nullify President [Joe] Biden’s vaccine mandate on private employees using the Congressional Review Act.” To break that down for our listeners, what exactly does that mean, and will this stop the mandate from taking effect?

Johnson: Well, it’s a tool we can use, Congressional Review Act, where we can overturn a regulation by an executive branch. But with as lockstep as the Democrats have been with the Biden administration, no matter how economically destructive or politically destructive, I’m not holding my breath that we’re going to get Democratic colleagues to join us in that.

Blair: So you don’t believe that this will be a bipartisan effort?

Johnson: I can hope and pray, but I’m not holding my breath.

Blair: OK. I guess as a kind of aside, is this mandate lawful? Is this the problem, that it’s through OSHA, or is there a bigger issue here?

Johnson: We don’t believe so. We don’t think OSHA has the authority to do this, but that’s not going to stop this administration, just like when they plowed forward with their eviction moratorium. When they knew clearly the Supreme Court had ruled it unconstitutional, that was OK. It was just their political strategy. So the harm will be done well before the courts decide on the constitutionality of this mandate.

Blair: One of the other things is that you and a number of other Republican senators have announced the Keeping Our COVID-19 Heroes Employed Act, which is trying to exempt essential workers from federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Why did you introduce this bill specifically and what are you hoping to achieve with this bill?

Johnson: Well, first of all, I’m co-sponsoring just about every bill that’s pushing back against these mandates, making sure that the finest among us, our military members, aren’t dishonorably discharged, trying with this bill to keep in place the essential workers.

And I’ve been meeting with doctors and nurses, the heroes of COVID, the people that had the courage and compassion to treat patients, may even [have gotten] infected, they have natural immunity. Some died. Most survived. And now many of them are seeing and they’re treating vaccine injuries.

I can attest to the fact there’s a large group of nurses and doctors and other health care workers that will not knuckle under and get this COVID vaccine, and we will lose decades of experience in nursing and health care. It’s irreplaceable.

I just heard this morning of one institution, I think it was a smaller hospital, they don’t have any permanently employed nurses anymore. It’s all traveling nurses. I’ve heard from nurses, on a daily basis, they get a text, “Quit your job. Become a traveling nurse. Two, three, four times your salary.”

Now, again, these are skilled professionals, but not necessarily for the slots that they’re filling. It takes decades to get the skill level in some of these specialties, and we’re going to throw that all away on an unconstitutional and pointless mandate? This is insanity. It is insane what we’re doing, but President Biden, he seems willing to plow forward, throw all caution to the wind.

Blair: We have seen some of the consequences of vaccine mandates, for example, in New York City, which has a citywide mandate. I believe they’ve had to reduce their capacity for firefighters about 20% and their ambulance services about 20%. Do you see that extended if the federal vaccine mandate is allowed to continue?

Johnson: Yes, we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg here. We’ve had some demonstrations of what’s going to happen with a pilot slowdown or air traffic control. It can cripple airline travel. It can cripple our transportation. It can cripple our health care industry.

Right now, we have such a severe health care worker shortage. I’ve been talking to nurses in the roundtables. Some of them are claiming that people are needlessly dying in emergency rooms because we’re understaffed now. Just think what happens if we lose a percentage of, again, these nurses and doctors with decades of experience.

Blair: One of the things that you mentioned at the top is you had hosted an event focused on people who had vaccine-related injuries and vaccine-related illnesses. Would you be able to tell us a little bit about what you discussed at that roundtable?

Johnson: Well, first of all, we just let these people tell their stories, and they’re gut-wrenching, they’re heartbreaking stories. And what’s even more heartbreaking is they’re completely being ignored. They are not being acknowledged. They’re being cast aside.

Two of the individuals actually participated in the trial, one in the AstraZeneca and little Maddie de Garay, she was 12, now she’s 13. She’s in a wheelchair now. She has a feeding tube. She can’t eat. They’re cast aside. She was part of the Pfizer trial for younger children. These are devastating their lives, and our health care agencies won’t acknowledge these people. So that’s the first thing. It’s just the inhumanity of that.

But we’re also just completely ignoring this from a standpoint of public policy as well. I’ve got to quote some figures here because I hear all the time, it’s like fingers on a chalkboard to me when I hear that vaccine injuries are rare and mild. Well, they’re rare and mild until they happen to you or your loved one.

But here are the stats for seasonal flu on average annually. This is 26 years worth of experience, and we have 7,551 adverse events reported per year on the VAERS system, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. Far from perfect, but that’s the safety signal.

On average, 78 deaths per year with the seasonal flu vaccine. For COVID, in 10 months, 837,000. That’s 110 times the rate of adverse events reported. In terms of deaths, 17,619. That’s versus 78 for flu—17,619, that’s 225 times more deaths reported in the VAERS system associated with the COVID vaccine.

Now, the two criticisms of VAERS is it does not prove causality. I understand that. But it also dramatically understates the number of adverse events. But in terms of causality, over 5,500 of those deaths occurred on day zero, one, or two following vaccination. It’s certainly something we should be concerned about. It’s certainly something we should investigate. It’s certainly something we should acknowledge. But we’re not, and you have to ask yourself the question: Why?

As long as I’m quoting stats, let’s take a look at what the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and the [Food and Drug Administration] have denigrated and what they sabotaged: early treatment.

And by the way, there’s literally a cornucopia of drugs for therapy. I’m talking to health care, they’re using … Corticosteroids, budesonide, but also hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin.

Ivermectin, a Nobel Prize-winning drug, billions of doses administered safely. This is how safely: So over almost 26 years, on average, 15 deaths per year associated with ivermectin, 15. With hydroxychloroquine, 64 on average over 26 years. Again, 10 months of the COVID vaccine, 17,619.

By the way, remdesivir, which they just kind of rushed an authorization for emergency use, 1,499 in the little bit more than a year that remdesivir is out there.

So what is going on here? Why have we taken away, the doctors who are practicing medicine, their off-label prescription rights? Why are we threatening their medical licenses if they have the courage and compassion to just give these things a shot? Why are we taking away Americans’ freedom to try these things?

It’s very difficult to get either ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine. You check yourself into the vast majority of hospitals, there’s no way you can get these drugs. You get put on a ventilator. In far too many cases, they just watch you die.

This is a travesty, what’s happening in our health care system as a result of this pandemic. The pandemic has exposed so many problems in our health care system, the corruption of the health care agencies, the capture by the big pharmaceutical companies.

And I’ve always been a defender of Big Pharma. Am I the only one that wants a new lifesaving drug? But we have so tilted the playing field in favor of the Big Pharma companies who can afford the random controlled trials, and that’s what CDC relies on.

They don’t look at observational studies. They don’t allow doctors to practice medicine, and the hospitals won’t because they’re not going to do anything different than what the CDC allows them to do because they don’t get the grant money then, they open themselves up to potential liability.

We now practice protocols dictated by the CDC, and independent doctors are having a pretty hard time practicing medicine using their off-label prescription rights. And patients, we’re just caught in between and we’ve lost our freedom.

Blair: I want to briefly cover something that we were talking about before the show, actually. During this event, the stories of some of these people who had received these vaccines and then had adverse effects to them were heartbreaking and very difficult to listen to, but we were talking about one in particular at the beginning of the show. Would you be able to kind of go in-depth on some of these stories that you heard during this event and sort of what it made you feel?

Johnson: Well, Ernest, a single dad, his son was his best friend. They never were apart. Just having him convey how much they loved each other. He lost his 16-year-old son, died from the vaccine.

Brie Dressen, young mom, she was part of the AstraZeneca trial. She became paralyzed from the waist down. Lost control of her bladder. She said [she] lost her dignity. Now, she can walk now, but she still has these inner tremors and inner vibrations. She’s maybe 60% recovered.

Maddie de Garay, 12-year-old, now 13-year-old young girl, who is now confined to a wheelchair, can’t eat. She needs a feeding tube. She was part of the Pfizer trial.

Again, they are all being cast aside. Doug told his story. Their livelihood is gone.

Dr. Joel Wallskog, orthopedic surgeon, can no longer perform surgery. His career as an orthopedic surgeon is over. He writes to the CDC, contacts them, they said, “Well, it wasn’t serious enough. You were never hospitalized.” They’re just blowing him off.

He is shocked by the lack of acknowledgement, the lack of our health agencies paying attention, taking these people seriously, and of course, the fact that they’re not being transparent to the American public. They continue to this day, say, “Oh, these things are perfectly safe, perfectly effective.” They’re not. I’m sorry to report, they’re not.

We have to look to England for data. And here’s the data on effectiveness of vaccines right now: For the last seven and a half months out the U.K., this is their public data, 80% of their COVID cases has been delta variant. Of the people who have died, 63% have been fully vaccinated. In the last four weeks in the U.K., 78% of those who’ve died with a delta variant have been fully vaxxed.

So unlike President Biden who promised us, “If you get this vaccine, you’re not going to get seriously ill, you’re not going to be hospitalized, you’re not going to die, you’re not going to catch COVID,” that’s an outright lie that he has never corrected.

This is not a pandemic on the unvaxxed. What it is, it’s a pandemic that we have refused to treat early. … This is a serious disease. I don’t downplay it at all, but the fact that we haven’t robustly explored early treatment, that we haven’t used this cornucopia of repurposed, cheap, generic drugs is a travesty.

Now, listen, I hope Merck’s new drug, molnupiravir, I hope it works, but it’s $700 a treatment, and it’s 20 months too late.

Blair: One of the questions that I’m asking myself as I’m hearing these stories—because there are clearly side effects related to these vaccines that we don’t quite understand yet. Not to say that the vaccine itself is an issue, but we need to discuss these problems. Why do you think we’re not able to discuss these side effects?

Johnson: The COVID gods have decided on a singular approach to ending this pandemic: a vaccine. They will never admit they were wrong, not the COVID gods, not the mainstream media, not the social media, because if they admit they were wrong, for example, on early treatment, if it’s ever proven, the way they have to prove it—I think it’s pretty well proven because I’ve talked to the doctors, I talk to the patients that have used and recovered from COVID with ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine.

But if they ever admit or are proven wrong, they’re going to have to admit that tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people needlessly died. So they just happen to have the power to make sure they’re never proven wrong.

So right now I think they are recognizing that they’ve been wrong in early treatment, which is why they’re all rushing to approve the molnupiravir. Now, again, I hope it works. I’d rather pay $700 to save a life, but I hope that they will still allow doctors and people that can’t afford it—for example, around the world, people can’t afford 700 bucks, but they can afford ivermectin.

By the way, in those countries where [people] have used it, there’s some pretty strong anecdotal evidence that it works, but we’ve ignored all of that.

Again, there’s so much I can’t explain in our response to COVID, but I can tell you it’s been a miserable failure—750,000 Americans dead either from or with COVID. The trillions of dollars, the psychological harm to our society, to our loss of freedom, to children, this has not been an effective policy response. I don’t know why anybody would continue to listen to the Faucis of the world. I have no idea why they would.

Blair: One of the things that kind of fascinates me as well about the response to COVID in America is we treat natural immunity versus vaccinated immunity very differently than the rest of the world does. It seems like a lot of places around the world accept that natural immunity from a prior COVID infection and recovery is, if not the same, on the same level as a vaccine. Why do you think that America is different than other countries where we don’t treat natural immunity the same?

Johnson: Again, the COVID gods want a vaccine in every arm. They’ll throw caution to the wind. They have denied all kinds of realities, and natural immunity is one of them.

By the way, again, I’m not a doctor and not a medical researcher, but I talked to enough of them who explained these things to me, makes perfect sense. Generally, natural immunity is quite strong. It’s robust. It’s not universally so, but why would we automatically assume that it’s not worth anything?

Now, … [an] Israeli study showed, once it’s adjusted for comorbidities, 27 times more effective than vaccinated immunity. Again, the reason it makes sense is your natural immunity recognizes the entire virus, all the antigens. The vaccine only recognized the spike protein, protects you against that. If the spike protein changes, it’s not very effective. Is that what’s happening to delta?

The analogy I’ve heard is your natural immunity recognizes your entire face. The vaccine, only your nose. So if you get a nose job, vaccine’s not going to recognize you, but your natural immunity will.

Blair: That’s an interesting analogy. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before. Another thing that I’ve been noticing as we go on through this sort of post-pandemic or sort of ending-pandemic mentality is there is a stark difference in how unvaccinated people or, as I think you mentioned in the event, nonimmune people versus immune people are being treated in society at large. How do you view that difference in treatment now?

Johnson: Well, again, a travesty. When I heard that a kidney transplant recipient and her donor were denied the transplant—it wasn’t like they were unhealthy, it wasn’t like they were infected with COVID, the surgeons, the hospital simply would not perform the surgery. What happened to the Hippocratic Oath? No, this is a travesty.

When I’ve heard of the families whose loved one gets so sick they have to check them into a hospital, and sometimes they’ll bring some of these repurposed drugs to the hospital, we won’t. They’ll take them to court. I’ve heard stories where the hospital’s been taken to court. They administer ivermectin, somebody’s gotten off the ventilator, they stop issuing ivermectin, they get sick, get put back on the ventilator.

The loss of freedom, to me, has just been eye-opening in terms of what hospitals are doing and won’t do and how they will just refuse family involvement or somebody’s own health directive. “You’re in our hospital. You’re going to treat this illness the way we’re going to treat it. We don’t need any of your advice and we’re not going to take any of your directives.” This has been a travesty.

Blair: Well, Senator, as we begin to wrap-up here, I want to kind of get some insight here. What is the plan from the legislative perspective to either fight against this vaccine mandate or to pull America out of this pandemic? What is the plan?

Johnson: Well, the way I’m approaching it is with information, because our health care agencies have not been honest. They have not been transparent. So I’m trying to provide the transparent information.

But you’ve seen what happens to me. I hold this event on Tuesday, and I’ve got doctors in Wisconsin saying that I’m spreading conspiracy theories. I’m letting people tell their true stories. We have medical experts talking to these issues. So those of us who are providing that information are getting attacked, we’re being censored.

Dr. Pierre Kory, 8 million views of his testimony on ivermectin in December 2020, that got pulled from YouTube, censored. I do radio interviews. The radio talk show host gets censored, gets kicked off YouTube for a week or two, suspension because he talked to me. So this level of cancel culture, I don’t know how many lives it’s cost, but it’s very destructive.

So what we’re trying to do is just provide information. We’ll continue to introduce bills, hopefully put public pressure, maybe get some Democrats on board, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. They’re in lockstep with this administration, again, no matter how economically or politically destructive it is. So I’m not holding my breath that we’re going to be able to do anything legislatively.

The courts have been really quite supportive of mandates in the private sector. I understand that. You’re a private employer, you can set the terms and conditions of your employment. But in terms of ruling on the unconstitutionality of OSHA’s rule, that’ll take months, maybe years, to be fully decided. It’ll be too late. This will be over by then.

Blair: Well, that was Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican who serves as the senior senator from Wisconsin. Senator, I really appreciate your time today.

Johnson: Thanks for having me.

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