What everyone should know about the new House Speaker, Mike Johnson
On Wednesday, after weeks of chaos, House Republicans unanimously selected Congressman Mike Johnson (R-LA) as the new Speaker. Compared to the previous Republican candidates for Speaker, Johnson has kept a relatively low profile in Congress. He was first elected to the House in 2016, and previously served as GOP deputy whip, a relatively junior leadership position. Johnson, 51, spent most of his career working as an attorney for far-right religious advocacy groups. Before joining Congress, he had a brief but eventful tenure as a member of the Louisiana legislature.
Here is some information you should know about Johnson, now that he has been abruptly elevated to one of the most powerful political positions in the nation.
Johnson advocated for the inclusion of controversial Bible course in public schools
In 2002, a course created by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools was offered in eight Louisiana parishes. The course, according to an April 2002 report in the Sunday Advocate, called "for students to read the Bible as a history book." It was criticized for being "skewed toward Protestant evangelical Christianity," for treating "the Bible as an accurate record of history," and for being a "thinly veiled" attempt to push Christianity on public school students.
The Supreme Court allows for the Bible to be taught in public schools, but only "objectively as a part of a secular program of education." Johnson defended the Bible course on behalf of the Louisiana Family Forum. He argued that the "Supreme Court did not say you have to discuss everybody's view on the Bible." Requiring that public schools treat all religious traditions equally, Johnson said, was "the height of political correctness."
Johnson became the unofficial spokesperson for "covenant marriage"
Johnson is also an advocate of a legal type of marriage that makes divorce difficult. Known as a covenant marriage, this form of matrimony reduces the grounds for divorce. It was championed by "conservative Christians in the late 1990s [who] thought divorces had become far too frequent under permissive procedures and sought to legally tighten the rules." NOLA.com reports. Couples in this arrangement cannot divorce by mutual consent and can only dissolve their marriage under specific, limited circumstances. Even then, there are significant barriers to initiating the process.
In Louisiana, for example – the first state to formally recognize covenant marriages – couples seeking a divorce "must go through marriage counseling," submit evidence, and "be separated for at least a year before a divorce can be granted." These requirements apply even in cases involving physical and sexual abuse, and increase the chance that a woman continues to experience violence at their hands of their partner. Johnson and his wife entered into a covenant marriage in Louisiana in 1999. They're now "proponents of the cause." In an interview with ABC in 2005, Johnson said that opting for a covenant marriage was "kind of a no-brainer."
While covenant marriages remain unpopular, they've paved the way for right-wing Republicans to rail against divorce more broadly. Earlier this year, the Louisiana GOP considered calling for "the elimination of no-fault divorce," WWNO reports. Meanwhile, last year, the Texas Republican Party urged legislators to "rescind unilateral no-fault divorce laws" and "support covenant marriage."
Johnson said LGBTQ people were living an "inherently unnatural" and "dangerous lifestyle"
In a series of editorials from the mid-2000s, first discovered by CNN, Johnson said that "homosexual relationships were inherently unnatural and, the studies clearly show, ultimately harmful and costly for everyone." He warned that recognizing same-sex marriages would lead to "chaos and sexual anarchy." Johnson said that allowing same-sex marriages would inevitably result in legal protections for pedophiles and people marrying their pets. He also supported criminalizing sexual activity between people of the same sex. "States have many legitimate grounds to proscribe same-sex deviate sexual intercourse," Johnson wrote.
Johnson sponsored bill to permit anti-LGBTQ discrimination
In 2015, after being elected to the Louisiana legislature, Johnson sponsored the Louisiana Marriage and Conscience Act. The bill would have prohibited Louisiana from taking "any adverse action against a person, wholly or partially, on the basis that such person acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction about the institution of marriage." The bill was slammed as "anti-gay" and an effort to greenlight discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Louisana House Speaker Pro Tempore Walt Leger (D) called Johnson's proposal "bigotry enshrouded in religion," noting there were existing state and federal laws protecting religious freedom. Leger noted people "cannot cite religious freedom to allow businesses to deny service to people based on their skin color, religion or gender." Why, Leger asked, "would we allow discrimination based on sexual orientation?" He said that Johnson's proposal would allow businesses to place "Heterosexuals Only" signs where "Whites Only" signs once hung.
Johnson attempted to defuse these criticisms by claiming that his bill would also protect people from "an overzealous, uber-conservative governor" who wanted to punish people for supporting same-sex marriage. Prior to the bill being considered in committee, however, Johnson amended the legislation to clarify that it was only "meant to protect those who oppose same-sex marriage."
Baton Rouge Metro Councilman John Delgado (D) called Johnson a "despicable bigot of the highest order" for pushing the proposal. ("I'm not a 'despicable bigot of the highest order,'" Johnson replied.) IBM, which was then building a technology service center slated to employ 800 people, wrote a letter opposing the measure, stating that "IBM will find it much harder to attract talent to Louisiana if this bill is passed and enacted into law." Dow Chemical released a similar statement. Other business leaders "expressed concern that the legislation could tarnish Louisiana's reputation as an accepting place to visit." Todd Chambers, chairman of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the state would not be selected for large-scale events if the bill passed.
Despite strong backing from then-Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (R), the bill died in committee.
Johnson's second attempt to stigmatize same-sex marriage
After the failure of the Louisiana Marriage and Conscience Act, Johnson introduced a similar but less ambitious bill called the Pastor Protection Act. The proposal "offered legal shelter to clergy who decline to perform marriage ceremonies for gay couples." (The Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states in June 2015.) It is unclear what problem the bill was solving since Louisiana passed a bill in 2010 with "protections for people who decline to perform certain functions that are against their religious beliefs." Further, no pastor had been forced to perform a same-sex ceremony against their will in Louisiana.
The Pastor Protection Act also died in committee after "two key Democrats on the committee accused Johnson of making changes to the legislation that would have allowed clergy to refuse to perform marriages for interracial couples." Johnson acknowledged the changes but said it was a "red herring" because he was "not aware of any religious tradition in this state that is opposed to interracial marriage."
Johnson's history as an anti-abortion extremist
As an attorney, Johnson frequently sued abortion clinics, seeking to limit access to reproductive healthcare in the state. As a member of the Louisiana legislature, Johnson simultaneously was paid $200 per hour to represent the state in litigation defending "the constitutionality of a state law requiring physicians performing abortions to have admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic where services are provided." The law made it extremely difficult for any abortion clinic to operate in the state.
The arrangement was legally dubious because "generally bans legislators and certain other officials from entering into a contract with state government." Johnson claimed he was covered by an exemption since the contract was signed prior to him taking office. But the initial contract was only for $100,000 and was amended several times after Johnson became a member of the legislature, ultimately reaching $750,000.
As a member of Congress, Johnson blamed women who received abortions for the financial difficulties of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. According to Johnson, if women were producing more "able-bodied workers," those programs — and the economy in general — would be much better. Today, he is an original co-sponsor of the "Life at Conception" bill, which would effectively ban all abortions. The bill would grant every "preborn human person" equal rights under the 14th Amendment from "the moment of fertilization."
Johnson played a key role in trying to overturn the 2020 election
Johnson was one of the main players in the efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Following the election, Johnson led a group of Republicans in filing an amicus brief supporting a Texas lawsuit urging the Supreme Court to invalidate the election results in key swing states. The brief, which was signed by an additional 125 House Republicans, argued that "authorities in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan had 'usurped' the constitutional authority of state legislatures when they loosened voting restrictions because of the pandemic." The court declined to hear the case "citing a lack of standing."
Former President Donald Trump personally asked Johnson to recruit Republicans to sign the amicus brief. Johnson "sent an email from a personal email account in 2020 to every House Republican soliciting signatures for" the brief, stating that Trump "specifically asked me to contact all Republican Members of the House and Senate today and request that all join on to our brief" and that Trump was "anxiously awaiting" to see who signed on. Johnson also posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that "President Trump called me this morning to let me know how much he appreciates the amicus brief we are filing on behalf of Members of Congress. Indeed, 'this is the big one!'"
Hours before the Capitol insurrection on January 6, 2021, Johnson posted on X, "We MUST fight for election integrity, the Constitution, and the preservation of our republic! It will be my honor to help lead that fight in the Congress today." Later that day, Johnson was among the 147 Republicans that voted to overturn the election. Johnson also reportedly coached his colleagues before the vote to certify the election. Many Republicans "relied on his arguments," following his suggestion to "steer clear of the lies about mass fraud and instead hang the objection on the claim that certain states' voting changes in the pandemic were unconstitutional."
Johnson has since continued to push claims of election fraud. Over a year after January 6, 2021, Johnson "continued to argue that he and his colleagues had been right to object to the election results" on his religious podcast "Truth Be Told." When asked in a press conference on Tuesday about his involvement in attempting to overturn the 2020 election, Johnson did not answer. The Republicans surrounding him "drown[ed] out [the reporter's] question with laughter and booing," while one Representative, Virginia Foxx (R-NC), told the reporter to "shut up."
Q. What is the difference between a law-abiding gun owner and a criminal?
A. The .2 of a second that it takes to pull a trigger.