FITCHBURG, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson withheld support for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell during an appearance Friday, refusing to say whether he should continue leading Senate Republicans after the chamber failed to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law.
Johnson, an Oshkosh Republican, appeared at the Madison Area Builders Association and took questions from a group of perhaps two dozen real estate developers and homebuilders. One of them told Johnson he thought McConnell seemed "totally inept" during the push to repeal the health care law and should step down as leader.
"Leadership makes all the difference in the world, doesn't it?" Johnson responded. "I recognize we've got a real problem with leadership."
After the session ended, Johnson told a reporter that too many people in Washington are trying to govern the public sector without having experience in the private sector. He said all they understand is politics and can't solve problems.
"It's 'how do we get to 50 votes?' No. It's (about) how do we bring down health care costs? How do we bring down the premiums that are artificially caused by Obamacare market distortions?" Johnson said. "It's obvious we don't have the kind of leadership we need to pass this piece of legislation. We just have too many career politicians on both sides of the aisle. They've gotten into partisanship. They don't know how to reach out. They don't know how to work across the aisle and they don't know how to solve a problem."
Asked directly if he wanted McConnell to step down, he said he wasn't going to answer the question.
McConnell's Washington office forwarded a message seeking a response to the Senate Republican communications center. No one there immediately responded to the inquiry.
Johnson was non-committal when asked in July if he has faith in McConnell. Questions about McConnell's future as majority leader have only intensified since then after the health care failures and former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore defeated incumbent Sen. Luther Strange this week.
A McConnell-backed super PAC spent nearly $10 million trying to save Strange's job, leading some conservative operatives to conclude Moore's victory was really a rejection of McConnell.
Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1