Congressman Mike Johnson (R-La.) was elected as the 56th Speaker of the House of Representatives on Wednesday. A first for Louisiana, and the most junior and least experienced Speaker of the House of Representatives in U.S. history.
Elected to Congress in 2016, Johnson, 51, a Constitutional lawyer and former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, was an architect of the lawsuit that sought to overturn the 2020 U.S. presidential election. He questions climate science, opposes clean energy, is skeptical of aiding Palestinians in Gaza and dismisses calls for gun control.
Mike Johnson is now second in the line of succession to the U.S. presidency.
To the Republic
“I don’t believe there are any coincidences,” Johnson said on Wednesday in his first speech on the House floor as speaker, adding, “I believe that God has ordained and allowed each one of us to be brought here for this specific moment in this time. This is my belief.” In fact, Johnson’s brief political career has been defined by religious views.
In the years before he arrived in Congress in 2017, Mr. Johnson worked as an attorney and spokesman for the Alliance Defense Fund — now called the Alliance Defending Freedom. In this capacity, he defended Louisiana’s proposed statewide ban on same-sex marriage in the courts; organized students to protest same-sex marriage as an attack on religious liberties; and characterized same-sex relationships to NBC News: “You can call it sinful or destructive—ultimately it’s both.”
During that time, he also expressed views in editorials in the local newspaper in his hometown of Shreveport, La:
“There will be no legal basis to deny a bisexual the right to marry a partner of each sex, or a person to marry his pet,” he wrote in 2004, calling it “inherently unnatural” and a “dangerous lifestyle” and likening it to “bestiality.” He opines in the Shreveport Times:
Experts project that homosexual marriage is the dark harbinger of chaos and sexual anarchy that could doom even the strongest republic.
In Congress, those attitudes translated into votes for a national abortion ban; a bill prohibiting federal funds and education to children under 10 about L.G.B.T.Q. topics and history; and opposition to legislation to mandate federal recognition for same-sex marriages.
A 2023 New York Times/Siena poll found that 70% of Americans support same-sex marriage and 22% oppose it.
Truth Be Told
While former president Donald Trump took credit for endorsing Johnson’s 220 votes in the House, he’d be wise to consider from whence the new and youngest Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives is looking for inspiration.
Yes, they got off to a rough start with the Affordable Care Act. "The last thing I ever imagined when I was elected was that I would have to say no to the president on his first major piece of legislation," Johnson said, though it spiked when he became the president's staunchest defenders as a member of the House Judiciary Committee during the first of Trump's impeachment hearings.
Traveling regularly with the president on Air Force One to football games; rallies and GOP presidential primaries in 2020; and eventually voting against certifying the 2020 election, Johnson quickly became an alley of the Trump Administration. However, if the presumptive GOP nominee is counting on Johnson to intervene in 2024, analysts say Johnson likely couldn't reprise a Trump election fight as U.S. House Speaker.
Moreover, Johnson is a professor at Liberty University, a private evangelical Christian university in Lynchburg, Virginia. Founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell Sr. in 1971, its affiliated with the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia (Southern Baptist Convention). It is the largest private non-profit university in the United States by total student enrollment, and Mike & Kelly Johnson's Apple podcast "Truth be Told" presents analysis of current events from a Christian perspective. Their interviews with some of the most influential people in law, politics and letters examines the world through an evangelical lens.
In September 2016, Johnson summarized his legal career as "defending religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, and biblical values, including the defense of traditional marriage, and other ideals like these when they’ve been under assault.”
In fact, his brief tenure in Louisiana’s 8th District (2015-17) speaks to precisely that. In April 2015, Johnson proposed the “Marriage and Conscience Act: to prevent the state from engaging in adverse treatment of any person or entity based upon their beliefs about marriage.” Widely seen as an attempt to protect people who discriminate against same-sex married couples, the state’s major employers like IBM denounced the bill and Republican Councilman John Delgado called Johnson a "despicable bigot of the highest order.” Of Louisiana’s 144 representatives, only Johnson and one other councilman voted for it. The House Civil Law and Procedure Committee quickly tabled the bill.
While Congress divides its legislative, oversight, and internal administrative tasks among approximately 200 committees and subcommittees, its the Speaker of the House that staffs those committees; sends bills to committees, and ultimately signs the bills and resolutions passed by the House. Effectively steering the values, attitudes and votes of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The U.S. Constitution does not state the duties of the speaker; the speaker's role has largely been shaped by traditions and customs that evolved over time; and Johnson’s abrupt rise to the speakership this week in a raucous Republican conference underscores the rightward lurch of the GOP and removal of its more mainstream predecessor, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the first speaker to be removed from the role during a legislative session, ever.
“If you don’t think that moving from Kevin McCarthy to MAGA Mike Johnson shows the ascendance of this movement and where the power in the Republican Party truly lies,” Matt Gaetz opined on Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast this week, “then you’re not paying attention.”
In fact, Mr. Gaetz, heads up. The power and influence is coming from a little higher up.