There are some critical things to know about Mike Johnson, the latest House speaker-for-now and, for at least 99% of Americans, a virtual unknown.
Donald Trump loves him. At least for today.
Steve Bannon loves him.
Matt Gaetz loves him. Gaetz loves him so much that he calls him “MAGA Mike Johnson.” And it should be noted that, after leading the Kevin McCarthy coup, Gaetz — possibly the most unpopular person in Congress — was the clear winner in the speaker sweepstakes.
Lauren Boebert, meanwhile, was standing immediately to Johnson’s left — leading to the obvious question: How can Boebert be to the left of anyone? — at his introductory news conference. As far as I can tell, they’re just good friends.
The most critical thing to know about Mike Johnson is why these particular people — I know, I could have said “peculiar,” but I was trying to be nice — are so happy that Johnson has gotten the speaker’s job. The general consensus is that an embarrassed GOP conference finally had to pick someone, and that nobody seemed to dislike Johnson, including, most importantly, Donald Trump.
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As we know, the only reason Trump would embrace any potential speaker was if he was a Trump supplicant, and Johnson, who was on the Trump defense team in the second impeachment trial, seems to be a perfect fit.
You may have read by now the long list of Johnson’s far-right, culture war stances. But let’s take a closer look, although I should probably offer a reader-discretion advisory. Let’s just say they’re disturbing enough that Denver Mayor Mike Johnston felt the need to tweet a reminder that he’s Mike Johnston — with a T.
These stances include an anti-abortion position so extreme that Johnson applauds hard-labor prison sentences for doctors who perform abortions. He also actually said that Roe v. Wade was responsible for problems with funding Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. “If we had all those able-bodied workers in the economy, we wouldn’t be going upside down and toppling over like this,” Johnson said in a House Judiciary Committee hearing.
His anti-gay-marriage position is so extreme that Johnson has written that “homosexual marriage is the dark harbinger of chaos and sexual anarchy that could doom even the strongest republic.” That’s just one example of many.
Representing an oil-producing district in Louisiana, Johnson is not exactly a climate-change denier. He just thinks that climate change is caused by natural cycles — and not by anything involving the fossil fuel industry. Now we’re left to wonder what the new speaker will do about the $370 billion clean-energy bill Congress passed last year that he voted against, saying the money would be directed to “green energy slush funds.”
On the immigration issue, Johnson accuses Democrats of favoring open borders to bring in “illegals” who would vote Democratic. As he said at a committee hearing in 2020, “This is the plan of our friends on this side — to run all the illegals into voters. That’s why the border is open.”
And, of course, most of all, as everyone must have seen by now, this same Mike Johnson, though a lowly back bencher, was a key player in the plan that led 139 House Republicans to vote to reject some Joe Biden electors on January 6. A constitutional lawyer, Johnson made a narrow lawyerly argument to reject the electors instead of employing the usual stop-the-steal rhetoric. But if you listened to the debate that night, you might not have noticed the difference.
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It’s not that Johnson wasn’t on board with the rigged-election team. He’s on record as bashing Dominion’s voting machines, saying there was “merit” to the idea the software was rigged. He even went after voting machines for their connection to, uh, “Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela.” Of course, Chavez had died seven years before the 2020 election.
You may remember that Ken Buck said he voted against Jim Jordan to be speaker, in large part, because Jordan wouldn’t concede Biden had been fairly elected. And yet, Buck joined every other Republican in voting for Johnson, saying that, well, whatever else Johnson did, he wasn’t as bad as Jordan. And so it goes.
When a reporter tried to ask Johnson a question about election denialism after he had become speaker — and while he was surrounded by the Republican House conference — one member told the reporter to “shut up,” Boebert said, “oh, god,” and many booed.
As it turned out, Johnson did not answer the question, but the thing to remember is that as many as two-thirds of Republicans tell pollsters they don’t think Biden was legitimately elected.
But here’s something you might not have noticed. The world, we keep hearing, is currently on fire. And I certainly won’t argue the point. The Hamas atrocities and the resulting Gaza siege that is expected to turn into a land war, with huge casualties anticipated. The continuing war in Ukraine and the atrocities there. Johnson now says he may be open to additional funding for Ukraine, but he has voted against it in the past.
And now there are the 18 dead in Lewiston, Maine, in the latest mass killing in America. The shooter, still at large as I write this on Friday, used an AR-15-style assault rifle with a large-capacity magazine, all the better to kill as many people as possible.
In briefly addressing the mass killing in his role as House speaker, Johnson offered — yes — prayer that “the evil can end, and the senseless violence can stop.” He added, “Everyone wants this to end, and I’ll leave it there.”
OK, it’s almost a thoughts-and-prayers parody that doesn’t, of course, in any way address the issue of gun violence, any more than Johnson addressed his position on election denial.
He said he would leave it there, even as Biden is calling again for a ban on assault-style weapons. What Johnson didn’t say was that the Lewiston shooting was the 36th mass killing — meaning four or more killed, not including the shooter — this year, with more than 190 dead. He didn’t say that, according to the National Gun Archive, there had been more than 565 mass shootings — with four or more injured by gunshot — so far this year.
In an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News Thursday, Johnson did go further, predictably calling gun violence a mental health issue — as if countries around the world with little gun violence didn’t also have mental health issues — and said this was “not the time” for gun control.
“At the end of the day, the problem is the human heart,” Johnson told Hannity. “It’s not guns. It’s not the weapons.”
Is the human heart really the extent of the problem? Or is the problem that Johnson was elected speaker unanimously by House Republicans because, even though he’s a virtual unknown to the rest of us, they knew him well enough to know exactly where he’d stand?
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