Republican Senator Susan Collins was asked by a Fox reporter what she thought of Mike Johnson’s nomination as the new Speaker of the House of Representatives: the senator confessed then that she didn’t know who he was and that she was going to Google him. Mike Johnson’s rise to become America’s third-highest authority — second in line to the presidency, after vice-president Kamala Harris — was so precipitous and unforeseen that his wife didn’t even have time to catch a plane from Louisiana to get there in time to see him pick up the speaker’s gavel for the first time.
Those who know him - or those who have Googled him - know that Johnson, 51, is an ultra-conservative evangelical Christian, anti-abortion activist with radical positions against LGBTQ rights, advocate of welfare cuts and Trumpist election denier who led the legal efforts of a large group of Republican congressmen to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential race.
He was born in January 1972, in Shreveport, the third-largest city in Louisiana. He was the oldest of four siblings, the son of the deputy fire chief who was injured and disabled in a fire when Johnson was 12 years old. As a boy, he said in his first speech, he wanted to be chief of the Shreveport Fire Department, but ended up studying law, making him the first college graduate in his family. Before entering politics, he worked as a private attorney and for conservative organizations, where he supported a ban on same-sex marriage in his state and even defended laws criminalizing homosexuality. He pushed for a law to allow marriages in which divorce would be more difficult, and he himself married under that same formula in 1999. The Johnsons have two sons and two daughters, but they also took in a 14-year-old Black boy who is now an adult.
He has reached the Speakership of the House partly through elimination and partly through fatigue among his colleagues. Perhaps also because, as Congresswoman Elise Stefanik said when she presented his nomination, he has no enemies, at least within his party. It was enough to have five congressional colleagues against him to ruin his election, a requirement that was met by all the party’s favorites, starting with the ousted Kevin McCarthy and followed by Steve Scalise, Jim Jordan and Tom Emmer, who won the internal votes before Johnson. And it was finally him, polite, humble and respectful, who managed to put out the Republican fire after three weeks of chaos. He has promised to seek common ground with the Democrats, but his ultra-conservative positions threaten to set American politics on fire.
In his first speech as speaker, he attributed his election to a divine destiny. “I believe that scripture, the Bible, is very clear that God is the one that raises up those in authority,” he said. Stefanik had defined him earlier as a man of “deep faith.” In January, when McCarthy’s election seemed deadlocked, he knelt down to pray for the situation to be unblocked with other Republican congressmen on the floor; and it eventually was that very day. “Mike Johnson is a strong conservative, but above all else, he is a strong Christian. He’s not afraid to look to his faith for guidance”, said congressman Greg Steube, one of those who knelt with him on that day. Right before his own election, Johnson tweeted a photo of an inscription in the House that reads; “In God we trust.”
His evangelical faith has guided his personal and political life. Newly elected, he gave an interview to the ultra-conservative Fox network in which he said that to understand his political proposals it was enough to take the Bible from the bookshelf and read it. A few years ago, in a speech in his native Louisiana, he argued that the ease of divorce, the “sexual revolution”, “radical feminism” and abortion (which he refers to as a “holocaust” or “murder of the unborn”) have made the United States “a completely amoral society”. And he linked school shootings to all that: “People say, ‘How can a young person go into their schoolhouse and open fire on their classmates?’ Because we’ve taught a whole generation — a couple generations now — of Americans, that there’s no right or wrong.”
Since 2022, he has a podcast on politics and religion with his wife: Truth Be Told with Mike and Kelly Johnson. It amasses 69 episodes in which they both attack the “leftist” Biden administration and the “murder of children” (in reference to abortion). They get right into cultural battles against progressivism, lash out at trans people and companies that incorporate diversity and equality criteria, attack Disney for “imposing a radical woke agenda” and “overtly satanic programming” on their audiences. And they describe Christianity as a harassed religion. However, he is not a proponent of turning the other cheek, but of fighting back: “The kingdom of God allows aggression,” he says in one episode. “There is a time for every purpose under heaven; there is a time for war. There is a time when you must rise up and contend for the faith.”
Johnson represents a district so conservative in Louisiana that Democrats didn’t even run a candidate in the last congressional elections. He has been a congressman since January 2017. Never before has someone with such a short congressional career become Speaker of the House. He has no major allies on Capitol Hill and has promised to “decentralize the power” that his office gives him. It is still early to know what all that translates into.
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