The state’s most powerful Republican also says “it’s way too early to tell” if President-elect Joe Biden won the election, which he won.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Sunday claimed the Legislature has “been dealing with an awful lot” this year, even though it has not met in more than seven months to address historic crises like the coronavirus pandemic and mass protests for racial justice.
Vos made the comments in a weekend appearance on WKOW’s Capital City Sunday, two days after he spoke with Gov. Tony Evers for the first time in about six months to discuss possible state action to slow the pandemic.
The Legislature under Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) last passed a bill on April 15, when it almost unanimously approved the state’s first and only coronavirus relief package. Since then, Vos and Fitzgerald have sued Evers at every turn as he tries to unilaterally fight the pandemic in the absence of legislative assistance, and Wisconsin has become one of the nation’s worst COVID-19 hotspots.
Capital City Sunday host Emilee Fannon asked Vos if legislators still deserve their full-time annual salary of about $53,000 despite having not passed a bill since April 15.
“Well, yeah,” Vos said. “Because don’t forget, we’ve been dealing with an awful lot.”
Since COVID-19 hit, Wisconsin’s legislature has been the least active full-time legislature in the nation, according to an October review by WisPolitics.
When Vos and Fitzgerald sued to overturn Evers’ Safer at Home order, they claimed they wanted to work with Evers to develop a statewide approach to fighting COVID-19. No such proposal ever materialized, and Vos held a press conference last week at the Capitol to announce the Legislature still had not drafted a bill.
Vos on Sunday grew defensive when asked about the inaction. He pointed to his task force on racial disparities that he formed rather than taking up Democrat-proposed bills to tackle police reform, saying it’s not realistic to expect lawmakers to quickly address big problems.
“The idea that we are going to be able to just find simple solutions to very complex, long-term problems isn’t really fair,” Vos said.
Fannon also asked Vos if he felt responsible for the state of the pandemic in Wisconsin. The Assembly speaker responded, “Of course not.”
He blamed “mainstream media” for “finger-pointing” before going on to point his finger at Evers and his fellow Democrats.
“The Democrats spent tens of millions of dollars lying about our record, somehow implying we didn’t care about COVID,” Vos said. “That’s a bold-faced lie. That’s why we passed one of the first bills in the entire country empowering Gov. Evers to act. In some ways he did, and in many other ways he has fallen significantly behind our neighbors.”
The Assembly speaker, who is the state’s top Republican, also said he “can’t answer for every Republican” when asked whether Republicans’ messaging against government-imposed COVID safeguards has contributed to the spread.
“I can only talk about what I think is right,” Vos said. “And that’s why I’ve encouraged people as strongly as I can to make sure that they wear a mask when appropriate, that they socially distance, and they try to avoid social gatherings.”
Vos’ chief of staff was among the group of Wisconsin Republican staffers and lawmakers who contracted COVID-19 after attending a staffer’s retirement party, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
In the days following the Nov. 3 presidential election, Vos was one of numerous Republicans at a local, state, and federal level who raised baseless concerns about non-existent “irregularities” with the election. He cited this conspiracy when he ordered an investigation by the Assembly Committee on Campaigns in a transparent attempt to sow doubt over election results.
On Sunday, Vos had still not accepted the fact President-elect Joe Biden won the election. Biden carried Wisconsin by about 20,500 votes and nationally is projected to win 306 electoral votes to President Donald Trump’s 232.
“It’s way too early to tell,” Vos said of the election that had been called two weeks prior.
Vos admitted it’s unlikely the Assembly investigation or the recount of Milwaukee and Dane counties will hand Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes to Trump. Even if the state somehow flipped, Biden would still have 26 more electoral votes than the 270 needed to win.