Post Mar-a-Lago, Mike Johnson seems a different person

In early April, facing a battle over retaining his Speakership, Mike Johnson went to visit former President Trump at his Florida estate to seek his support. It would appear that Trump gave his blessing to the Speaker in return for Johnson’s more vociferous expression of unswerving loyalty to him. Johnson now seems almost like a different person.

While Speaker Johnson tended to stay in the background while getting accustomed to his new position, recently he has been asserting himself aggressively. Later in April, he came, uninvited, to Columbia University where he spoke out against student protesters and called for the National Guard to be brought in to put down the anti-semitic violence (there was none). Appearing at former President Trump’s trial in NYC with a scrum of Republican officials (all nearly identically dressed), he gave a short speech denouncing the trial and misrepresenting the facts. Then, after the verdict was announced, without any supporting evidence he called the trial “a severe miscarriage of justice” and said the Supreme Court should completely overrule the verdict. Did Johnson realize that the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction in the matter even though he remarked that a couple of them were his personal friends?

Although elected Speaker by the House of Representatives last October, he remains little known by the American public or even most of his fellow members of Congress. Who is he and what can we expect from him?

In the running for Speaker, Mike Johnson was a “dark horse”; In his 8 months as Speaker, Johnson has shown considerable dexterity in working with his very fractious and uncooperative Republican majority, brushing away an attempt to remove him from his post yet shepherding through major bills providing military aid to Israel and Ukraine, a notable accomplishment.

A mild mannered 52 year old lawyer, Johnson grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana, where his father was a fireman. He graduated from Louisiana State University (LSU) in 1995 and its Law School in 1999.

His record over the past four terms as a member of Congress has been consistently right of center. While nearly always voting with the majority of Republicans, he had never led a powerful committee or served in the top tier of House leadership.

However, last year, while serving on the House Armed Services Committee, he led 59 other Republicans in a vote against a 39 billion aid package for Ukraine, a move endorsed by former President Trump. In the past, Republicans have been very slow to back away from foreign commitments and this may represent a real change in GOP foreign policy.

A devout evangelical Southern Baptist, the Speaker is known for his outspoken religiosity having spent much of his time over the past two decades extolling his faith through articles and lectures. Johnson’s religious beliefs have strongly influenced his political views. A confirmed foe of abortion, he has been pushing for a total abortion ban with no permitted exceptions.

He has also spoken out sharply against homosexuality, calling it “inherently unnatural” and a “dangerous lifestyle” and linking it to bestiality, according to opinion essays and interviews. And he opposed legislation to mandate federal recognition for same-sex marriages — a bill that passed with strong bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

The Speaker has an environmental record even less favorable than most of his Republican colleagues. The League of Conservation Voters, the principal environmental group monitoring voting records of members of Congress has given Johnson a lifetime rating of 2% out of a possible 100% (the average score for a Member of Congress is 52%). But the American Energy Alliance, which represents fossil fuel interests, gave him a score of 100% in 2022. Johnson called the energy components of the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act “a thinly veiled attempt to implement the policies that would usher in a new socialist society in America”.

Some observers think that Johnson is competing to be selected as Trump’s running mate. John Nance Garner FDR’s vice president from 1932-40, is remembered for saying that “the vice presidency is not worth a bucket of warm spit!” Trump may lose and the Republicans may lose the House but for now as long as he remains untroubled by his own shameless obsequiousness, Johnson remains in the catbird seat, the highest ranking Republican in government.

Architect and landscape designer Mac Gordon lives in Lakeville.

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