Until last week, Congressman Mike Johnson of Louisiana was not particularly well known. He was elected to Congress in 2016 and has been a loyal soldier in the pro-Trump wing of the Republican Party. And now he’s Speaker of the House, having been elected to the powerful position by a weary Republican conference following a messy three-week succession fight that paralyzed legislative work in Washington.
Johnson is a hard-right political conservative. But he has distinguished himself by combining his hard-line views with a gentle style. And in the rough-and-tumble turmoil of Republican Party unrest since long before former Speaker Kevin McCarthy was ousted three weeks ago, the “nice guy” perception of Johnson seems to have carried the day in his selection.
Nice guy or not, Johnson will almost certainly continue the rightward tilt of House Republicans, as he is deeply embedded in the ultra-conservative, pro-Trump arm of the party. He is the former chairman of the Republican Study Committee, played a significant role in congressional efforts to overturn the 2020 election and considers the flamboyant and volatile Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio to be a mentor.
Johnson is an evangelical Christian and one of the most religious conservatives in the House. He voted for a national abortion ban and co-sponsored a bill promoting a 20-week abortion ban. He also introduced a bill last year that critics called a national version of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, designed to prohibit the use of federal funds to provide sex education to children under 10 that included any LGBTQ topics.
Johnson is now Speaker of the House, with all the privileges and responsibilities that entails.
He will face challenges in efforts to unite an ideologically divided Republican conference in the House to help avert a government shutdown in less than a month, in sending supplemental aid to Israel and other foreign countries and in passing reauthorization bills before the end of the year.
Given Johnson’s lack of leadership experience, there is concern that he may not be up to the task. Some are even concerned that he won’t have enough time to staff his own speaker’s office fast enough to adequately handle all the issues that must be addressed before the end of the year.
Johnson’s first big test will be funding the government, which is set to run out of money on Nov. 17. Everyone will watch how he tries to bring together a deeply divided conference on one of the most divisive issues facing the party. Johnson plans to promote a short-term bill to extend government funding until mid-January or April, but he hasn’t had time to even lay out the parameters of his approach. And beyond his Republican conference challenges, Johnson needs to figure out how to negotiate with a president with whom he has no relationship and a Senate leadership that doesn’t know him.
We wish Speaker Johnson well. We hope the mantle of leadership will help convince him of the value of strategic compromise and bipartisanship.