If you read the news that Republicans have selected Rep. Mike Johnson to be the next speaker of the House, second in line to the presidency, and thought to yourself, “Who is Mike Johnson,” you’re not alone.
The deeply conservative Louisiana Republican seems to have benefited from his low national profile and relative anonymity outside of the Capitol Building.
Even Sen. Susan Collins, the Maine Republican, noted she would need to Google the guy to learn more. Good luck to her. A name as common as “Mike Johnson” is not exactly Google-friendly.
He also appears to have benefitted from being one of former President Donald Trump’s closest allies in Congress. He was among the Republicans chosen to serve on Trump’s House legal team during impeachment proceedings.
Watching videos of Johnson’s interviews and appearances at congressional hearings suggests he is not a fire-breathing partisan in the mold of House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio or Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida. Johnson presents as even-keeled and thoughtful. But the record suggests he is no less partisan, particularly on issues of importance to Trump, like the 2020 election and Republicans’ effort to impeach President Joe Biden.
How conservative is he? CNN’s KFile reports he once wrote in support of the criminalization of gay sex and said same-sex marriage was a danger to democracy.
Trump’s support is telling; Johnson played a role after the 2020 election
On a host of issues, Johnson is an extremely conservative figure. But it may be most important to track his view of US democracy.
Johnson didn’t just join efforts to challenge the 2020 presidential election – he orchestrated some of them, organizing fellow lawmakers to file a brief joining Texas and other red states that questioned the results in swing states won by Biden.
He was not among those outright alleging election fraud or conspiracy. In a December 2020 interview with the New Yorker – after the casting of electoral votes in state capitals but before their counting on January 6, 2021 – he was talking about a desire to see the Supreme Court weigh in on the so-called independent state legislature theory in order to guide future elections. He also said in that interview that he was not prone to conspiracy theories.
But then, on January 6, Johnson was the first signatory on a statement explaining that he, along with 36 other House Republicans, would vote to sustain objections to the electors from key states Biden won because they felt the votes were made unconstitutional by accommodations officials made to voters during the pandemic.
On the morning of January 6, Johnson encouraged supporters, saying on social meda, “We MUST fight for election integrity, the Constitution, and the preservation of our republic! It will be my honor to help lead that fight in the Congress today.”
He again voted to reject Electoral College votes in the hours after the insurrection.
Most Republicans on Capitol Hill are tired of talking about this, Johnson included
He declined to answer a question Tuesday night about his role in objecting to the 2020 results. The assembled lawmakers standing behind him booed the reporter who asked it.
There will be more immediate issues for Johnson to deal with as speaker, like figuring out how to work with Senate Democrats and Biden to fund the government by the time current funding runs out November 17.
The 2020 election remains a key issue, however, since Trump is the front-runner for the GOP nomination in 2024. Trump has made pretty clear that winning the White House back is a key part of his criminal defense strategy as he faces state and federal charges for trying to overthrow the election.
It’s also important since Jordan of Ohio, Trump’s first pick for speaker, failed in his own bid because he could not win the support of key 2020 election believers in the GOP and Republican moderates.
Why is Johnson’s election denialism different?
Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado, a conservative, opposed Jordan specifically because the Ohio Republican had been unwilling to publicly acknowledge the 2020 results.
When CNN’s Abby Phillip asked Buck why he opposed Jordan for election denialism but is an enthusiastic supporter of Johnson, Buck noted that Jordan was actively in contact with the White House on January 6, which he cited as “election denialism in their highest degree.”
PHILLIP: So, you think it’s OK for (Johnson) or any other speaker candidate to have voted to decertify the last election, which was free and fairly won by Joe Biden?
BUCK: I don’t think it’s OK, Abby. I think it’s a mistake. But I think people make mistakes and still can be really good speakers. We’re at a point now where we need to move forward and make sure the government stays open, that we fund Israel, we fund Ukraine, we fund the border efforts, and that’s going to take a human being in that speaker position, not a perfect human being, but a Mike Johnson who has done his very best to move issues forward and is a really good person.
Buck’s answer to Phillip’s pushback suggests that there’s also an element of just plain needing to solve this and get a speaker installed.
Johnson and Jordan are often in the same space
Buck’s distinction between Jordan and Johnson on election denialism is a valid one. But that does not mean that Johnson isn’t coming from a similar point of view as Jordan. They work on many of the same issues.
Biden impeachment. Before the speaker’s race, Johnson, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, was featured in CNN stories about the effort to impeach Biden.
‘Weaponization’ of government. He has also featured prominently in efforts to argue that Democrats have tried to weaponize the government against conservatives. Johnson, along with Jordan, sits on a special committee empaneled to investigate the issue and has posted multiple clips about the role to his feed on X.
An anti-abortion rights activist
On other issues, Johnson may be to the right of Trump and far to the right of much of the country. While Trump has said he would try to bring about some kind of compromise on the issue of abortion, Johnson is a committed opponent of abortion rights and introduced a bill that would define life as beginning at conception, which could be a step on the path to a nationwide ban on abortions. He introduced a bill to criminalize the leaking of Supreme Court draft decisions after the draft of Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked last year.
The Louisiana Republican, who has gotten the highest rating from anti-abortion groups, also introduced a resolution condemning what was described as attacks and intimidation on abortion opponents after the decision and posted video of his aggressive questioning of abortion rights activists at House hearings.
The personal politics of a speaker are important, and the last three weeks without one have shown the wide array of views just within the GOP. But the speaker’s larger role is to lead the House so that it can pass legislation and keep the government running. Johnson’s capabilities on that front remain completely unknown.
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