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Who is Mike Johnson? An ardent conservative who embraces far-right policies

Newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson speaks during a press conference after his election at the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 25, 2023.
Olivier Douliery
AFP via Getty Images
Newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson speaks during a press conference after his election at the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 25, 2023.

After weeks of uncertainty, House Republicans elected Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson, a conservative Christian who opposes abortion rights and same-sex marriages, to become House speaker.

While his hard-line conservative record is not one that's widely known nationally, it's being celebrated by many Republicans in his home state who are welcoming what they see as an important moment in Louisiana's history.

The state's GOP Gov.-elect Jeff Landry praised Johnson, saying he's "well-liked by everyone." Congratulating him on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, Landry stated, "he has the work ethic and tenacity to lead our country in this prestigious position. Louisiana is proud!"

Louisiana welcomes top leadership gains

After three other GOP nominees did not gain enough support from their fellow House Republicans to secure the top leadership position, Johnson was able to do just that after a single floor vote, making history as the first speaker from Louisiana. He's also the first speaker from the South since Georgia Republican Newt Gingrich held the post from 1995 to 1999.

His election means two of the top leadership positions in the House — speaker and majority leader — will be filled by Louisianans. Republican Rep. Steve Scalise, who dropped his bid for speaker two weeks ago, is currently the House majority leader.

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., (left) congratulates House Speaker-elect Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., on Wednesday.
Alex Brandon / AP
Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., congratulates Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., on the House floor on Wednesday.

Johnson's ascent from a rank and file lawmaker who's served in the House since 2016 is also being welcomed by far-right Republicans who now have a leader with similar views in the top spot in the House.

In a speech to his colleagues on the House floor upon his election, Johnson said he would work to decentralize power in the House and he emphasized the importance of getting the House running again.

"My office is going to be known for members being more involved and having more influence in our processes," he said.

Johnson won the speakership with all House Republicans voting for him after failing to elect three other Republican nominees, including Scalise, Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan and Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer.

"We are just getting started, but people are going to come to know and love what he represents because he fights for things bigger than himself and people who have been ignored for way too long," Scalise said about Johnson in a press conference on Capitol Hill following his election.

In addition to the support from Scalise and other Republicans from his home state, he received praise from Louisiana Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who said Louisianans always find a way to work across party lines to deliver progress.

"I hope that Speaker Johnson can bring these Louisiana values to Washington," Edwards said in a statement.

Critics have voiced concerns over his conservative policies

Still, others have been less enthusiastic. Many Democrats are concerned with his record on restricting access to abortions and are not confident in his ability to work across party lines.

Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., described Johnson on X as, "one of the biggest anti-choice extremists in Congress" saying that Johnson "wants to ban all abortions without exception — to the point of criminalization with prison sentences."

A strong opponent of abortion rights, earlier this year, Johnsonposted on X, then known as Twitter, that his home state would work to "get the number of abortions to ZERO!!"

Last year, he sponsored a bill that was seen as a national so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill, inspired by a Florida law that bans education on gender identity and sexual orientation in some elementary school grades. While the bill never went further than being introduced, Johnson called it "common sense," saying in a statement, "The Democrat Party and their cultural allies are on a misguided crusade to immerse young children in sexual imagery and radical gender ideology."

When the law was introduced, NPR's Laurel Wamsley reported that the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for the rights of LGBTQ+ people, decried it, stating, "Extremist House Republicans like Mike Johnson are continuing their assault on LGBTQ+ Americans' ability to live their lives openly and honestly."

Former President Donald Trump, seen here greeting Rep. Mike Johnson on Feb. 4, 2020, supported the Louisiana Republican's bid to become House speaker.
Pool / Getty Images
Getty Images
Former President Donald Trump, seen here greeting Rep. Mike Johnson on Feb. 4, 2020, supported the Louisiana Republican's bid to become House speaker.

Johnson is a 2020 election denier with close ties to Trump

Johnson represents Louisiana's 4th Congressional District, which covers most of the western and northwestern parts of the state, including Shreveport. His record is considered just as reliably conservative as that of Jordan. But Johnson is lesser-known and has often been described as an under-the-radar lawmaker who has a kinder façade than Jordan.

Like Jordan, he is an ally to former President Donald Trump, who praised the new speaker Wednesday saying "he's a tremendous leader." Johnson is also a staunch election denier who voted against certifying the 2020 election results. He served on the team that defended Trump in his first impeachment inquiry. And he supported a lawsuit to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in four swing states.

In a press conference following his election as speaker, GOP members laughed off and booed at a reporter's question about Johnson leading an effort to overturn the 2020 election.

The pro-Trump Republican is expected to work closely with Scalise and other GOP leaders in the coming weeks to get the House back on track after the chamber came to a standstill as Republicans wrestled over choosing a new speaker.

"We will restore trust in this body," Johnson said on X. "We will advance a comprehensive conservative policy agenda, combat the harmful policies of the Biden Administration, and support our allies abroad. And we will restore sanity to a government desperately in need of it. Let's get back to work."

Congress has less than a month to work out a plan to fund the government and avoid a November shutdown.

Copyright 2023 WRKF

Molly Ryan
[Copyright 2024 89.3 WRKF Baton Rouge]