On October 25, after three weeks of voting and extensive deliberations caused by intra-party setbacks following the historic ousting of Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), House Republicans finally surpassed the required 215 votes and unanimously elected Mike Johnson (R-LA) as Speaker of the House.
But who exactly is Mike Johnson, and how did this dark-horse congressman with no record of House leadership during his six years of congressional service rise quickly to prominence almost overnight?
Before entering the political arena, Mike Johnson began his career as a constitutional lawyer, most notably for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian law firm that promotes anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-abortion laws.
"I am a Christian, a husband, a father, a life-long conservative, constitutional law attorney and a small business owner in that order,” Mike Johnson told the Lousiana Baptist Message back in 2016 before being elected to Congressional office. He went on to say, “I was called to legal ministry, and I’ve been out on the front lines of the ‘culture war’ 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 2015, Johnson was elected to the Louisiana State House. Shortly afterward, he ran for Congress in 2016 and won Lousiana’s fourth Congressional district, a solidly Republican district located in the state’s northwestern corner, which Trump handily won in 2020 by almost 24 points. Since his election to Congress, Johnson, also a member of the House Judiciary Committee, has maintained a relatively low profile, but has identified himself ideologically as a social conservative and a strong Trump supporter among his Republican colleagues.
During Trump’s first impeachment, Johnson served as a member of his legal defense team. He later played a prominent role in assisting Trump’s efforts to illegitimately overturn the 2020 election results by filing a friend-of-the-court brief, which won the signatures of 125 Republicans, in support of a Texas US Supreme Court lawsuit that sought to invalidate electoral votes from Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Arizona.
Describing Johnson as the “most important architect of the Electoral College objections,” a New York Times article explains, “On the eve of the Jan. 6 votes, [Johnson] presented colleagues with what he called a ‘third option.’ He faulted the way some states had changed voting procedures during the pandemic, saying it was unconstitutional, without supporting the outlandish claims of Mr. Trump’s most vocal supporters. His Republican critics called it a Trojan horse that allowed lawmakers to vote with the president while hiding behind a more defensible case.”
Regarding policy standpoints, Johnson has identified himself as a hardliner against same-sex marriage and abortion rights, posting on Twitter (now known as X) following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022, “we will get the number of abortions to ZERO!!”
Johnson, a stalwart supporter of Louisiana’s oil and gas industry, has also received more campaign donations from that industry than any other Republican congressperson since his election in 2016 and has regularly downplayed the effects of climate change. Additionally, Johnson frequently opposes sending foreign aid to Ukraine in its defense against Russia, even going so far as to receive an F from Republicans for Ukraine in its GOP congressional report card.
Despite Johnson’s lack of leadership experience and his election under unprecedented circumstances, many Republicans nevertheless remain optimistic in their hope that Johnson will help bridge the sharp divisions within the GOP that have plagued every Republican House Speaker over the past decade. Given his relatively lower profile and shorter time in Congress, Johnson certainly enjoys an image that bears less political baggage.
“Nobody hates him yet,” Congressman Thomas Massie (R-KY) playfully joked to the press. “That’s his best asset.”
However, given Johnson’s socially conservative record and his orchestrating role in Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, there will undoubtedly be many obstacles for him to overcome in gaining the trust of suspicious Democrats.
Nonetheless, during his acceptance speech at the podium following his election, Johnson assured Democratic House Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) of his openness toward working with him.
“I know we see things from very different points of view,” Johnson said. “But I know that in your heart you love and care about this country, and you want to do what’s right. And so we’re going to find common ground there, alright?”
While he was recently successful in averting a government shutdown through the passage of a stopgap funding bill (approved by the Senate the following day), only time will tell if House Speaker Johnson is truly able to handle today’s tumultuous and polarized political climate.