Speaker Mike Johnson, The Lowkey Extremist
Mike Johnson isn't as loud as Jim Jordan, but his role in the effort to overturn the 2020 election, support of abortion bans, and opposition to same-sex relationships indicates he is just as extreme.
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ABC’s Senior Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott had a question for Speaker Designate Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) at his press conference on Tuesday night.
“Mr. Johnson, you helped lead the effort to overturn the 2020 election results, do you…” Scott’s question was immediately drowned out with loud groans, laughs, and boos from the Republicans crowded around him.
“Boooooo!” Republicans shouted. “Oh gosh,” Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) scoffed. “Shut up! Shut up!” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) repeatedly said. Mike Johnson, smiling throughout the noise, not taking the question seriously, simply responded: “Next question.”
That man has just been elected to be Speaker of the House, with Donald Trump’s endorsement.
That moment at the press conference spotlighted the extremist hubris of the modern GOP. They arrogantly brushed off a question about an attack on our democracy that they were complicit in. An attack that has resulted in dozens of felony charges at the state and federal level, including guilty pleas.
It’s with that same arrogance that House Republicans just embraced Mike Johnson’s lowkey style of extremism and unanimously voted for him to become the 56th Speaker of the House. This ends the 22-day Speakerless House but begins a new era of far-right politics in House leadership.
Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO), who claimed he couldn’t support Jim Jordan’s Speaker bid because of his role in Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election, voted for Mike Johnson, who played a key role in Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election.
Quiet extremism is still extremism. Mike Johnson might not be as loud as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), but he has espoused just as extreme policies and initiatives.
Ahead of this Speaker vote, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) made this point to MSNBC’s Ari Melber at a Center for American Progress event: "Mike Johnson has a very pleasant demeanor, but his voting record is as extreme as the most extreme members of his conference with very few exceptions.”
“It sort of sounds like you’re saying Congressman Johnson is just a less stylistically annoying Jim Jordan,” Melber asserted.
Jeffries replied, “One could say that,” to a laughing response from the audience.
Johnson, who was elected in 2016 along with Donald Trump, isn’t that well known among the general public, outside of those of us who obsessively watch Judiciary Committee hearings, which he serves on. Johnson is the Vice Chair of the House Republican Conference and deputy whip. You might also recognize him from being on Trump’s defense team during his first impeachment. If not, you’re not alone.
When Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), the Vice Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, was asked about potentially working with Johnson, Collins said she didn’t know him and needed to Google him.
If even a sitting Senator needs to be briefed on Johnson’s record, I’m sure you do, too.
So what’s so extreme about Mike Johnson? Let’s dive in.
Johnson’s Role In Trump’s Effort To Overturn The 2020 Election
Mike Johnson didn’t take a passive role in Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election - he played a key role. The New York Times labeled him “the most important architect of the Electoral College objections.”
Johnson led the amicus brief that sought to invalidate the 2020 election results in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Johnson organized over 100 Republicans to sign on to this amicus brief, which was widely panned as spreading false allegations of voter fraud by legal experts.
In a December 2020 email obtained by NBC News, Johnson reached out to his fellow Republicans with the subject line, “Time-sensitive request from President Trump”:
“President Trump called me this morning to express his great appreciation for our effort to file an amicus brief in the Texas case on behalf of concerned Members of Congress. He specifically asked me to contact all Republican Members of the House and Senate today and request that all join on to our brief. He said he will be anxiously awaiting the final list to review.”
Johnson was acting at the explicit direction of Donald Trump to organize this effort. The Supreme Court refused to even hear the case.
Johnson’s Other Extreme Stances
Mike Johnson has a 92% rating from the American Conservative Union and a 90% rating from Heritage Action, affirming his conservative voting record. But his record goes beyond basic conservativism and into far-right ideologue territory.
Opposition to abortion: Mike Johnson is the co-sponsor of multiple nationwide abortion ban bills. Johnson promoted a Louisiana policy, happily declaring, “Perform an abortion and get imprisoned at hard labor for 1-10 yrs & fined $10K-$100K.” In a Judiciary Committee, Mike Johnson said, “Roe v. Wade gave constitutional cover to the elective killing of unborn children in America,” and said that it prevented “able-bodied” workers from entering the economy.
Unhinged homophobia: Mike Johnson voted against the bipartisan legislation that protected same-sex marriage at the federal level. Mike Johnson also once wrote in favor of criminalizing gay sex, calling it an “inherently unnatural” and “dangerous lifestyle” that would “doom” the republic.
Climate change denial: Mike Johnson has downplayed the role of humans in climate change. In a town hall in 2017, Johnson said: “The climate is changing, but the question is, is it being caused by natural cycles over the span of the Earth’s history? Or is it changing because we drive SUVs? I don’t believe in the latter… I don’t think that’s the primary driver.”
Cuts to social programs: Mike Johnson once said that cutting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security needs to be the #1 Republican priority.
“Don’t Say Gay” advocacy: Mike Johnson authored a bill that "prohibits the use of federal funds to develop, implement, facilitate, or fund any sexually-oriented program, event, or literature for children under the age of 10.” Critics compared this to Florida’s legislation, which has had a “chilling effect” on any LGBTQ+ expression in schools.
These are just some of his extreme stances. More quotes from Mike Johnson are beginning to surface as we speak. Republicans rushed this vote before Johnson could face proper scrutiny, and now they own his extremism.
How Will Johnson Govern?
There doesn’t appear to be a concrete plan in place to avoid a government shutdown, but there are some glimmers of movement elsewhere. In his speech after winning the Speakership, Johnson said that he will bring a bill in support of Israel to the floor. But there was no mention of Ukraine aid, which is notable given the opposition to Ukraine funding within the Republican caucus. Aid for Ukraine was the sticking point in the last shutdown fight, so he will have to take a stance here.
Johnson has no major leadership experience within the House that usual Speakers have as a prerequisite to taking office. It is yet to be seen if he’ll be able to unite his caucus around legislative priorities. Given the current Democratic makeup of the Senate, Johnson’s more extreme legislative impulses will be checked. As long as Democrats hold the Senate, his far-right stances won’t become law.
There’s also the issue of Johnson’s election denial. What if Donald Trump is the GOP nominee, which looks likely, and loses the general election? What if he runs the same 2020 playbook and tries to overturn the 2024 election results? Will Mike Johnson use the powers of the Speakership to help Trump?
These are the questions that should concern every American about Mike Johnson’s Speakership. We can only hope that Johnson’s Speakership is less extreme than his record. Only time will tell. But for now, it’s safe to say that the far-right’s takeover of the House has been completed. But voters likely won’t take kindly to someone so out of step with the majority of Americans.
House Republicans just put their majority in even more jeopardy in 2024.