Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect that Sen. Ron Johnson was still awaiting the results of his COVID-19 test when he attended the Oktoberfest. He says he got the result that he was positive afterward.
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson attended an Oktoberfest fundraising dinner on Friday evening while he was awaiting the test results that would show he was infected with COVID-19.
The Wisconsin Republican chose to attend the bash even though he knew that President Trump and many of his inner circle had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Johnson, who didn’t reveal his diagnosis until Saturday, justified his behavior in comments to the Madison, Wisconsin Capital Times by saying he only took his mask off when it was time to address the crowd. He also insisted that he was “at least 12 feet from anybody” during his speech at the event, which was sponsored by the Ozaukee County Republican Party. It was held at the River Club of Mequon, a self-described “casually elegant private club committed to personal service.”
“I feel fine, I feel completely normal,” he said in a conference call with reporters, adding that he didn’t “stick around” to mingle at the dinner.
Attendees paid from $40 for a single ticket to $500 for “gold host” status, which included two meal tickets, priority seating, and “special host recognition.” Former Wisconsin attorney general Brad Schimel was the evening’s featured guest, according to an invitation on the Ozaukee County Republican Party’s Facebook page.
Johnson has previously come out against statewide mask mandates, and warned against “overreacting.” We “don’t shut down our economy because tens of thousands of people die on the highways,” he said in March.
News of Johnson’s diagnosis comes as Wisconsin’s COVID-19 cases and deaths have risen to record levels. President Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, and is now being treated at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. His doctors insisted the president was in good condition on Saturday and had not been given supplemental oxygen—a claim soon undercut by White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.
“The president’s vitals over the last 24 hours were very concerning and the next 48 hours will be critical in terms of his care,” Meadows said “on background,” before being quickly outed online. “We’re still not on a clear path to a full recovery.”
First lady Melania Trump also tested positive for COVID-19, but claims to have only “mild symptoms.” Multiple Trump insiders who were in close proximity to the president in recent days have since tested positive, including senior White House counselor Hope Hicks, former senior White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, Trump 2020 campaign manager Bill Stepien, and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie.
Johnson was the third GOP senator to test positive for COVID-19 in 24 hours, after Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Thom Thillis (R-NC). He believes he caught the virus from his chief of staff, Tony Blando, who recently recovered from his own COVID infection. Johnson himself quarantined for 14 days after Blando tested positive, ending his stay in isolation just days before his own positive result.
“I don’t blame anybody for this,” he told reporters. “We have a pandemic with a contagious disease...To me, I don’t care where I might have got it from.”
On Saturday, the Trump campaign held several events across the country, some of them indoors and many of them mask-free.