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Meet Trump Ally, New Conservative Speaker Mike Johnson

Meet Trump Ally, New Conservative Speaker Mike Johnson
Representative Mike Johnson, a Republican from Louisiana, speaks after becoming US House speaker in the House Chamber at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, US, on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023. Republicans installed little-known Trump ally Mike Johnson as US House speaker, cementing the party's rightward shift and ending a messy three-week succession fight that paralyzed legislative work. Photographer: Ting Shen/Bloomberg

Rep. Mike Johnson is hardly a household name, even in Washington, D.C. But he’ll become more of one starting today.

The fourth-term Republican from Louisiana was elected speaker of the House this afternoon, after a long-running struggle to fill the job. Johnson will become the third-ranking official in American government, with vast power over every policy Congress touches.

Johnson was a key figure in pushing to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election — and his job new job could give him even more power over Congress’ role in certifying the results of the 2024 contest.

Most immediately he’ll have to find a way to navigate a government funding deadline on Nov. 17 and a push from the White House and many senators to provide military aid to Ukraine and Israel. In his address to the House, after taking the gavel, Johnson highlighted conservative goals but also the need for some compromise.

“We have to sacrifice sometimes our preferences — because that’s what’s necessary in a legislative body — but we will defend our core principles to the end,” he said.

Johnson has been more conservative than the man he replaces, former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), particularly on social issues. He’s a vocal critic of abortion and same-sex marriage and spent his earlier legal career arguing against both. The Louisianian is the first Southern House speaker since Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in the late ‘90s, adding to the region’s significant influence in the House GOP.

Here are some of the key things to know about Johnson:

Jan. 6 Role

Johnson recruited fellow Republicans to sign onto a longshot lawsuit aiming to throw out the results in four key swing states.

The suit was dismissed by the US Supreme Court. Later, Johnson provided some of the legal rationale House Republicans used to object to the results in Arizona and Pennsylvania, according to The New York Times. They aimed to throw out millions of legitimate votes despite dozens of court cases and numerous investigations affirming the validity of the outcome.

When Johnson was asked about that effort Tuesday night he refused to talk about it and fellow Republicans drowned out a reporter with booing. “Shut up! Shut up!” shouted Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.).

Legal Background and a Podcast

Johnson, 51, is a lawyer who had a brief stint in the Louisiana state House of Representatives before winning a seat and moving to Congress in 2017. His western Louisiana district is largely rural and among the poorest in the nation.

He’s vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, a messaging role that makes him the House GOP’s fifth-ranking lawmaker. He previously chaired the conservative Republican Study Committee, one of the largest caucuses in Congress, but has never led a congressional committee.

He hosts a podcast with his wife, Kelly, which they describe as “thoughtful analysis of hot topics and current events from a Christian perspective.”

A Figure of “Trust” Within the GOP

After three weeks of turmoil, fellow Republicans said Johnson won in part because of his lower profile. He doesn’t have the same entrenched enemies as McCarthy or the previous three speaker nominees, according to members of all wings of the conference.

“Right now, things are pretty raw, so we need someone who can get along with everyone,” said Rep. Kat Cammack (R-Fla.).

The word “trust” came up frequently in interviews with GOP lawmakers.

And fellow Republicans praised his policy chops — a contrast from McCarthy, who mostly thrived on personal relationships.

“He’s a policy wonk,” said Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas).

A Johnson speakership means the top two House Republicans are from Louisiana, since Majority Leader Steve Scalise is also from the state.

A Focus on Social Issues

Social issues have been a key part of Johnson’s legislative agenda. He voted against codifying federal protections for same-sex marriage (PL 117-228) and is a vocal opponent of abortion, co-sponsoring legislation that would ban all abortions past 15 weeks (H.R. 8814). He has an A+ rating from the Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America.

He introduced legislation in February that would make it a federal crime to transport a minor across state lines to obtain an abortion without satisfying any parental notification requirements in the minor’s home state (H.R. 792), and last year proposed a bill that would stop federal funding for “sexually-oriented” education for young children (H.R. 9197). The bill was largely seen as part of the GOP’s opposition to teaching kids about topics related to the LGBTQ+ community, as pioneered in Florida by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).

As chairman of the House Subcommittee on Constitution and Limited Government, Johnson has led hearings critical of abortion, sex transition procedures, and civil asset forfeiture this year.

Funding the Government

Passing spending bills and averting a government shutdown by Nov. 17 will be Johnson’s first challenge as speaker.

House conservatives have pushed for deep cuts that have no chance of passing the Senate, and they ousted McCarthy in large part because he supported a temporary plan in September without the cuts that won bipartisan support.

Johnson split on the two key funding issues that have faced Congress this year. He voted with McCarthy on legislation the former speaker negotiated with the White House to lift the federal debt limit until 2025 but opposed the stopgap spending bill that avoided a government shutdown late last month. Johnson at the time said he had “no choice” but to support the debt deal in order to avoid a default on the national debt, adding it “does not go far enough” in reining in federal spending.

While Democratic control of the White House and Senate means House Republicans will have to compromise to get any funding bill over the finish line, some conservatives indicated they’d be willing to give Johnson more leeway than they did McCarthy, whom the right always viewed skeptically.

“It’s a different situation now, there was a trust factor with leadership last time,” Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), head of the hard-right Freedom Caucus, told CNN. “I think you’re going to see a different viewpoint now.”

Israel and Ukraine

Johnson could make it difficult to get additional funding for Ukraine in its efforts to repel the Russian invasion.

He voted for failed amendments to this year’s annual military policy bill (H.R. 2670) that would have cut out Kyiv aid, and he opposed recent standalone bills aiding Ukraine’s military that have passed the House (PL 117-128/H.R. 5692).

House conservatives have become deeply skeptical of aid to Ukraine.

Fundraising

Johnson has raised almost $600,000 this year alone, according to the most recent filings by his re-election campaign and leadership PAC, and reported about $1.2 million on hand between the two fundraising vehicles.

Those numbers lag others in leadership, but House speakers tend to make fast friends among party donors, especially those with a stake in the congressional agenda like corporate political action committees.

He has already reported donations this year from the political action committees tied to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp., the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, timber company Weyerhaeuser Co., Visa Inc., Microsoft Corp., Koch Industries, the Boeing Co., and the American Bankers Association.

His personal finances are less robust. He reported holding no investments in an August personal financial disclosure. He made nearly $30,000 last year teaching online courses at Liberty University, a religiously conservative private university in Lynchburg, Va., and owes at least $250,000 on his home mortgage and at least another $15,000 from a 2016 personal loan.

Lobbying Ties

Johnson doesn’t have deep ties to the corporate lobbying community, but his perch on the Armed Services panel has given him entree to some in the defense sector.

“He’s a bridge builder,” said lobbyist Michael Herson, who runs the consulting firm American Defense International. “He’s going to need to bridge those differences within the conference, and I think he’s the guy who can heal those wounds.”

Johnson has a few former aides who are registered federal lobbyists including Jason Samuels, an in-house lobbyist for TikTok, the Chinese-based social media company that lawmakers have targeted.

Another former Johnson aide Ruth Ward is registered to lobby for the Family Policy Alliance, a conservative Christian advocacy group based in Colorado Springs, Colo. Marcie Haber, a former legislative assistant in Johnson’s office, serves as director of congressional affairs at Oklo Inc., a nuclear fission startup, according to her LinkedIn profile.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Tamari at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: George Cahlink at [email protected]; Bennett Roth at [email protected]

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