James Michael Johnson, known as Mike Johnson, became Speaker (the Speaker) of the House of Representatives (the House) on October 25, 2023
by A. Altieri D’Angelo
James Michael Johnson, known as Mike Johnson, became Speaker (the Speaker) of the House of Representatives (the House) on October 25, 2023. He succeeded Kevin McCarthy, who was voted out of the Speaker role by a small group of extreme right-wing republican House members (the Far Right). Johnson was the first Speaker elected from Louisiana and the most junior congressman to rise to that office since 1883.
Before joining the House, he was a constitutional lawyer. He stated that his career “was focused on defending religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, and biblical values, including traditional marriage and other ideals like these when they have been under assault.”
Johnson’s political and religious philosophies are highly conservative. He is against gay marriage, does not believe in LGBTQ rights, and is vehemently opposed to abortion in any form. He has stated that abortion is an American holocaust. He has voted to repeal Obamacare.
He has argued for drastically amending the U.S. Constitution and led the Louisiana House of Representatives in formally petitioning the U.S. Congress to call a Convention of States to begin revising it.
The Speaker was among 127 Republicans who sought to overturn the results of that election in a House vote. He voted against creating a national commission to investigate the January 6, 2021, Washington DC riot. He defended President Trump in the House impeachment trial. (And Trump endorsed Johnson’s Speakership.)
The Speaker does not believe in Darwinism, a theory of biological evolution. The theory states that all species arise and develop through the natural selection of minor inherited variations that increase the individual’s ability to compete. Johnson seems to believe in “Young Earth Creationism (YEC)”.
YEC holds that the Earth and its life forms were created by supernatural acts of an Abrahamic God between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago. This theory does not allow for species development; whatever was created initially is unchanged. Believe it or not, it is a theory that is held by a not insignificant number of Americans.
Johnson does not believe that humans are causing climate change. His views are based on the “Great Chain of Being”, a medieval concept in which the chain of being begins with God and descends to angels, humans, animals, plants, and minerals. Under this concept, humans are superior to all of God’s creations, and climate change is a natural cycle that humans do not impact.
Johnson’s religious views are perhaps the most extreme. He believes the Bible holds the answers to any question. On the Sean Hannity show, the Speaker said he was once asked what he thinks about any issue, and he responded, “Well, go pick up a Bible off the shelf and read it. That is my worldview”. It will be interesting to see how he interprets the Bible as Speaker.
Johnson has inherited a fractured Republican Party. He seeks to cut government spending and impose Christian evangelical rules on Americans. His first task, however, upon becoming Speaker was to avoid a government shutdown. He found himself in the same position as the former Speaker, Kevin MacCarthy. He could not convince the Far Right to agree on a plan to fund the government through January and February; they wanted to force spending cuts immediately and were prepared to shut down the government. To his credit, the Speaker decided it was better to avoid a shutdown than to appease the Far Right. He proposed a continuing resolution for funding the government that did not call for spending cuts. This proposal allowed House Democrats and the Senate to vote for the bill. The bill passed with 336 votes in favor and 95 opposed. The Far Right is extremely angry with Johnson and put him on notice they would oppose him if he did not make the cuts they sought.
As a result, despite being an archconservative with radical Christian evangelical views, Johnson is on the hot seat. His honeymoon with the Far Right is over. Johnson must convince his party to moderate its views in the coming weeks. He knows that if there is a shutdown in early 2024, he and the Republican Party will be blamed. In addition, with such gridlock, Johnson will not be able to pass any social legislation that he deems to be extremely important, such as a national ban on abortion.
The continuing resolution will buy a few months of breathing room. Given the chaos the Far Right is intent on causing, he will need Democratic Party support. But, like McCarthy, obtaining such support could lead to losing the Speakership (if the Democrats fail to support him). His only hope is that the moderates in his party will challenge the Far Right. The Democrats, however, must moderate their demands if they wish to pass any legislation in 2024.
Johnson will undoubtedly need to consult his Bible in 2024 and also pray.