After three weeks of chaos and divisions the Republican party, which has a majority in the U.S. House, is finally managed to elect a new speaker, a sort of president of the chamber, but with an operational role in managing the political agenda. Mike Johnson, congressman from Louisiana, was elected on the first ballot, collecting all the Republican votes, something he had failed to do three previous candidates.
Mike Johnson is 51 years old, in his fourth term as a member of the House and was considered a secondary figure in the party. With the exception of voters in his district, most Americans didn’t know who he was, and even some fellow party members admitted they had to turn to Google to find more information about him. Politically, Johnson is part of the most extremist part of the Republican Party: he is an evangelical Christian, he is very close to Donald Trump and has ideas radically against abortion and the rights of LGBT+ people. In these years as a deputy he had only stood out for a central, but not visible, job in Trump’s attempt to overturn the outcome of the 2020 presidential elections, won by Democrat Joe Biden.
While supporting the most radical theses of the Republican far right, Johnson is but described by everyone as a person with “gentle manners”, decidedly less aggressive than most of the colleagues closest to him politically. This characteristic and the fact of being effectively a second choice even for the most combative minority of the party made him an acceptable candidate even for the relatively more moderate Republicans (in recent years the party has moved a lot towards even more right-wing positions, so it is not possible to speak of “moderates” or “centrists” in the strict sense, with rare exceptions). The approximately twenty deputies who did not want to vote Jim Jordanthe most representative and toughest of the exponents of the Trumpian Republican right, instead gave their support to Johnson, who also defined Jordan as his “mentor in Congress”.
But Johnson was in fact an emergency solution, after more than two weeks in which the work of Congress was blocked due to the inability of the Republicans to reach agreement on a name after the removal of the previous speaker Kevin McCarthy (a historic first time). If this fourth option had also failed, the hypothesis of an unprecedented but necessary agreement between the party and the Democratic minority could have occurred. It would have been an unprecedented solution in US parliamentary history and a resounding defeat for the Republican majority.
However, Johnson’s election represents a victory for the MAGA (Make America Great Again) component of the party, the one that refers entirely to Donald Trump and has supported every battle, including the widely discredited ones on alleged fraud in the 2020 elections.
Johnson was first elected to Congress in 2016, is a lawyer and has limited parliamentary experience, having never led a committee or commission within the House. He is the son of a firefighter, who was disabled by an accident at work when he was 12, and was the first in his family to go to college and graduate. Before arriving in the Chamber he was a lawyer and spokesperson for the anti-abortion and anti-gay group Alliance Defense Fund (now Alliance Defending Freedom).
In that role he expressed some of his most homophobic views in editorials published in the local newspaper of his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana. The US media, including the CNN, have recovered some in which he defines homosexuality as “essentially unnatural” and a “dangerous lifestyle”. “The opinion of experts is that homosexual marriage is a dark omen of chaos and sexual anarchy that can condemn even the strongest of republics,” she said. It’s stillagainst same-sex marriage: «If it is accepted, there will no longer be a legal basis to prohibit a bisexual from the right to marry a partner of any sex, or to prohibit a person from marrying his pet» .
His positions are strongly influenced by belonging to the evangelical Church. He has a weekly podcast with his wife Kelly Johnson, who describes herself as a pastoral counselor, a figure which provides support on marital and family issues starting from reading the Bible. Speaking about her after her election, he said: “She spent the last two weeks on her knees praying to God, and now she’s exhausted.”
In Congress he voted in favor of anti-abortion proposals at a national level and promoted a law that would ban abortion after the twentieth week in all cases, even those in which the mother’s life is at risk. He has presented a bill to ban the use of federal funds for school supplies for children under ten that include references to LGBT+ issues (referred to in the press as a national version of the Florida law known as “Don’t Say Gay”). When the Supreme Court had eliminated the right to abortion at the federal level, overturning the ruling Roe v. Wadehad celebrated: «God will bless us».
These ideas, which are not really popular in the country, are however quite widespread within the Republican party. The Democrats focused their criticism on the election of Mike Johnson, recalling his significant role in the attempt to overturn the outcome of the 2020 presidential elections. A constitutional lawyer, Johnson had collected signatures in Congress in December 2020 for an appeal to the Supreme Court promoted by the state of Texas and based on never proven voting irregularities (appeal later rejected). Johnson had repeatedly proposed (he still maintains) the theory that those elections should be canceled because some states would have changed their voting methods (following the pandemic) in an unconstitutional way. But Johnson also supported and repeated other theories without any foundation regarding possible fraud, including those about a “Venezuelan” origin of some electronic voting machines or about alleged fraud by the Dominion company (a theory also taken up by television Fox News, that for this it had then paid $787 million in damages to the company in an out-of-court settlement).
Mike Johnson was also on Donald Trump’s legal team at the primo impeachment. Trump openly supported his candidacy, after having failed in a few hours that of Tom Emmer, considered not faithful enough. After his election as speaker, almost all party members expressed satisfaction at having resolved an issue that was becoming a huge political problem, but US newspapers write that there is some concern due to Johnson’s lack of experience at this level, who will have the difficult task of leading a very divided House and who will have to relate to President Joe Biden and the leader of the Senate Democrats Chuck Schumer, who in fact do not know him.
Johnson’s first official act was an official resolution expressing solidarity and support for Israel, while among his priorities he indicated that of the border with Mexico, defined as “broken”. But the central issues he will soon have to address will be the financing of government activities (extended to the end of September until mid-November), which also includes economic and military support for Ukraine, an issue of which the most extreme fringe of the Republicans is unconvinced.
The post first appeared on www.ilpost.it