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Mike Johnson and his extremism ascend to the speaker's chair
The anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ Louisiana lawyer wanted to overturn the 2020 election. Now he's second in the line of succession.
Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana is the new Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Johnson led a House effort to support a lawsuit that essentially called for tossing out four states’ votes for President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. With today’s 220-209 vote making Johnson speaker, he is now second in the line of presidential succession — only behind the vice presidential winner of that election, Vice President Kamala Harris.
This is truly disturbing news. On several fronts.
Johnson was the House Republicans’ fourth “speaker-designate,” meaning the person who the caucus chose as their pick for speaker, after Rep. Kevin McCarthy was ousted as speaker three weeks ago. Having a narrow majority, the speaker-designate needed to obtain support from almost all of the Republicans in the floor vote for speaker. None of the prior speakers-designate — Reps. Steve Scalise, Jim Jordan, and Tom Emmer — were able to do so.
Enter Johnson, who was elected with no Republican opposition on Wednesday despite several better-known Republicans being unable to do so. Other journalists — excellent, full-time congressional reporters — will be writing important stories in the coming days about the process that got us here. I am going to focus here, today, in this post, on the extremism that the entire House caucus just voted into the speaker’s chair.
Johnson has been in Congress for less than eight years and was virtually unknown outside of D.C. and home before this week. He is, however, an extremist within a caucus of extremists.
Johnson was a key Trump supporter in the House seeking to get the Supreme Court to take Texas’s ridiculous challenge to other states’ elections, a fact that he did not want to discuss on Tuesday night.
As reported by The New York Times, Johnson sent an email to all of his Republican colleagues on Dec. 9, 2020, asking for other House members to sign an amici brief supporting Texas in the case. Remember, this was more than a month after the Four Seasons Total Landscaping news conference and weeks after the Rudy Giuliani-hair-dye news conference.
Describing his having talked with Trump about the case and brief, Johnson wrote that Trump would ”be anxiously awaiting the final list [of signatories] to review.”
He got 125 other House members on the brief, which bore his name on the cover.
In the brief, the lawmakers did not just support the filing of the complaint, they also supported Texas’s request for a preliminary injunction. What does that mean? Texas was asking for an injunction barring Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin “from taking action to certify presidential electors or to have such electors take any official action—including without limitation participating in the electoral college or voting for a presidential candidate—until further order of this Court.”
It was a lawsuit to toss out the votes of four states.
And the new House Speaker got more than half of the House Republican caucus to support that request.
The Supreme Court rejected the case completely on Dec. 11, 2020. Only Justices Sam Alito and Clarence Thomas issued a brief statement noting that they believed the court had to take the case — a question about whether the court had discretion to reject it completely — but even they stated publicly that they would not have granted the preliminary injunction request.
Even following that rejection, Johnson spoke with The New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner about the effort — reiterating that it wasn’t all over yet and himself raising the prospect of Jan. 6 as the key date. Johnson told him:
Our overriding concern is that there is a lot of angst and concern out there about the system itself, and if we short-circuit this, and, say, the magic date of December 14th came, and you still have cases in the system, that upsets a large swath of the country even more, because they feel even more disenfranchised.
January 6th is the date Congress certifies. And, remember, four years ago, Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee and three or four of her colleagues tried to stop that process in the House. To his credit, Joe Biden said, “No, this is our system.”
Although he credited Biden in that interview, Johnson voted on Jan. 6, 2021, to overturn the 2020 election — objecting to certifying both Arizona and Pennsylvania’s electoral votes.
Now, he’s the speaker of the House.
Rep. Mike Johnson is also an extremist on other fronts — as evidenced by a review of legislation for which he was the lead sponsor.
Johnson is the lead sponsor of a bill that would make it a federal crime to help a minor obtain an abortion out of state without adhering to any state-law parental-notification requirements. It also would criminalize knowingly providing abortion care to out-of-state minors without parental notification regardless of the law in the jurisdiction where the doctor practices. Even in this caucus, the bill only has 22 co-sponsors — a sign of, as I wrote above, one of the ways in which Johnson is an extremist even among the extremists that are the House Republicans.
He also has introduced extreme immigration-related legislation and legislation that would diminish legal protections for certain violations of the Establishment Clause. (The immigration bill has no co-sponsors. The Establishment Clause-related bill had only three co-sponsors at introduction: Reps. Andy Biggs, Matt Gaetz, and Randy Weber.)
Johnson’s extremism isn’t, of course, limited to the legislation he himself leads. In July, as the chair of the House Subcommittee on the Constitution and Limited Government, Johnson held a hearing on “The Dangers and Due Process Violations of ‘Gender-Affirming Care.’”
Johnson’s anti-LGBTQ views are longstanding and deeply held. A year ago, he was the lead Republican introducing what was referred to as the federal ‘don’t say gay’ bill, legislation that I covered at Law Dork at the time — albeit without even naming Johnson. Fewer than three dozen House members co-sponsored the bill at introduction.
Before his time in Congress, Johnson worked for the Alliance Defense Fund — now, the Alliance Defending Freedom — to, among other causes, oppose same-sex couples’ marriage rights. He is, in other words, a true believer of the extremist project.
As journalists get more time to dig into Johnson’s history, expect more like the report we already got on Wednesday from Andrew Kaczynski and Allison Gordon at CNN about some of Johnson’s earlier anti-gay writings.
In one of the writings highlighted at CNN, Johnson wrote in 2004, “Experts project that homosexual marriage is the dark harbinger of chaos and sexual anarchy that could doom even the strongest republic.“
Johnson only left the advocacy world in 2015 by taking a seat in the Louisiana legislature. As an article noted at the time, Johnson did so without even having to get the approval of voters. He ran unopposed.
A little more than a year later, he announced he was running for Congress.
Less than eight years after that, on Wednesday, Mike Johnson and his extremism ascended to the speakership.
This breaking news report has been updated and expanded after initial publication, with the final update at 6:30 p.m.
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