The Speaker of the House nobody knows, Mike Johnson

Chicago
By Chicago 6 Min Read

I’ve been covering Congress for years, and I never heard of the man who was elected speaker on Wednesday, Republican Mike Johnson of Louisiana.

Google got a workout when his name suddenly surfaced as a contender only a few days ago.

Opinion bug

Opinion

For 21 deadlocked days, House GOP members struggled to find someone who could muster 217 votes. After now former Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California was ousted in a coup led by Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, Jim Jordan of Ohio and Tom Emmer of Minnesota tried and failed to win the gavel.

To say Johnson, first elected to Congress in 2016, is low profile might be an exaggeration. Perhaps obscure is better.

Johnson, 51, from Shreveport, won the speakership with 220 votes, on the first ballot.

Democrats have a lot to complain about Johnson.

What I am urging is in the discussion about Johnson, we separate policies where people disagree, for example his support for a national abortion ban and his opposition to gay marriage, with his alarming positions playing a role in the unraveling of our democracy.

That should be of concern to everybody – but obviously it’s not since Johnson is now speaker.

By the unraveling of our democracy I mean:

·Johnson, now in line for the presidency — after the vice president — is a leading election denier.

· Johnson voted to overturn the 2020 election in an attempt to keep President Donald Trump in power and deny Joe Biden the presidency.

·A strong Trump ally, Johnson, was one of the more than 100 House Republicans who signed a brief to support a Texas lawsuit to nullify the 2020 election results in four states Biden won, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

· Johnson downplayed the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by Trump backers seeking to stop the House and Senate from formalizing Biden’s victory.

Indeed, Johnson and his leadership gang treat their collective election denial as a joke.

At a news conference on Wednesday ABC’s Rachel Scott asked Johnson about his efforts to help overturn the 2020 election. Scalise, Rep. Elise Stefanick of New York and other House GOP leaders flanking Johnson hooted and booed or made light of the question, which Johnson declined to address.

Biden’s team is playing their reaction to Speaker Johnson on two courts: officially, sending him verbal handshakes, while on the campaign side highlighting that Trump acolyte Johnson is an extreme MAGA Republican.

The White House press office diplomatically said Biden “called Johnson to congratulate him on his election, and expressed that he looks forward to working together to find common ground on behalf of the American people.”

Of course, the official statement has to be measured. The stopgap spending measure avoiding a federal government shut down expires Nov. 17. It will take a bipartisan deal to pass the GOP-led House and the Democratic-run Senate to keep government open.

On the Biden-Harris campaign side, the response is not dressed in nice talk.

Ammar Moussa, spokesperson for Biden-Harris 2024, said in a statement, “MAGA Mike Johnson’s ascension to the speakership cements the extreme MAGA takeover of the House Republican Conference.”

Illinois sends three Republicans to the House.

Rep. Darin LaHood – who did not vote to overturn the 2020 election — said in a statement, ”Over the past three weeks, we’ve witnessed the consequences borne from a small group of Members who put self over governing and the impact of the Motion to Vacate. …

“The election of a new Speaker has been a messy process that has prohibited the House from advancing a conservative agenda for three weeks. It’s time to get back to work under Speaker Mike Johnson, govern for the American people, and pursue solutions to the problems voters sent our Republican Majority to Washington to fix.”

Rep. Mary Miller and Rep. Mike Bost — both voted to overturn the election — each posted upbeat messages about Johnson on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

Triggering McCarthy’s downfall is that he worked with Democrats to get a stopgap funding measure passed a few weeks ago to avoid a federal government shutdown.

Keeping the government open is the first big test of this unknown new speaker, who has no experience at the top rungs of House leadership.

The deadline is looming. And now we know who he is. Johnson is out of the shadows. He’s in the spotlight.

It’s just not clear what happens next.

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