WASHINGTON -- After repeatedly punting on whether he supports a trade agreement dividing voters in his state, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) on Tuesday said that he will refrain from taking a position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership until after the November election.
"I'll keep meeting with constituent groups and evaluate this until I have to take a vote," he said, when asked at an event at the Rotary Club of Milwaukee.
President Barack Obama's trade agreement has emerged as a major issue in Johnson's re-election race against Democratic challenger Russ Feingold, who has seized on Johnson's refusal to take a position.
Polls show him trailing the progressive Feingold, who held Johnson's very seat before being defeated in 2010.
Johnson on Tuesday said his hesitance is "not unusual" and that he wants to give the agreement "careful consideration, rather than making a snap, knee-jerk judgment," an attack against Feingold, who came out against TPP in May 2015.
But Johnson, a businessman, has backed previous U.S. trade deals and believes that free trade “lifts all boats” and would create jobs.
Feingold has argued that TPP would jeopardize manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin, calling it “a raw deal for Wisconsin families.” He has also highlighted his longtime opposition to trade deals, like his vote against NAFTA in the 1990s, and released campaign ads on the negative effects of free trade.
In May, Feingold's campaign staged a stunt to further call attention to Johnson's indecision on TPP. A staffer dressed as Lord Business, the villain from "The Lego Movie," went to Johnson's office to "endorse" him, on the condition that Johnson declares his opposition to the trade agreement. The incident mocked Johnson's accusation that the children's movie was "insidious propaganda" against business owners.