WASHINGTON — Republicans elected a new speaker of the House on Wednesday in Rep. Mike Johnson, ending 22 days of a paralyzed chamber after a group of rebels overthrew Rep. Kevin McCarthy.
Johnson, R-La., was nominated Tuesday after three previous nominees flamed out. He unified the fractious Republican Conference, winning votes from right-wing detractors of McCarthy, R-Calif., as well as centrist Republicans who opposed Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.
The little-known congressman was first elected in 2016, representing a solidly Republican part of north and western Louisiana. He has ascended through the ranks, chairing the conservative Republican Study Committee and holding the position of House Republican Conference vice chair. He sits on the Judiciary Committee (and chairs a subcommittee on the Constitution), the Armed Services Committee and the newly created select committee on "Weaponization of the Federal Government."
Here are five things to know about Johnson.
His role in promoting 2020 election denial
Johnson is a constitutional lawyer who has used his talents to craft some creative — and controversial — theories. The most notable is his role in devising an argument aimed at keeping Donald Trump in power even though he lost the 2020 election.
A New York Times article last year called Johnson “the most important architect of the Electoral College objections” on Jan. 6, 2021. His argument to colleagues was that certain states’ changes to their voting procedures during the Covid-19 pandemic were unconstitutional, an argument that became more palatable to lawmakers than the fabricated claims of mass fraud. In all, 147 Republicans voted to block the certification of Joe Biden electors.
“In every election in American history, there’s some small element of fraud irregularity,” Johnson said. “But when you have it on a broad scale, when you have a software system that is used all around the country that is suspect because it came from Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, when you have testimonials of people that like this, but in large numbers, it begs to be litigated and investigated.”
On Tuesday night, after he was nominated, Johnson declined to respond to a question about his role in the election objections.
In the Trump presidency, Johnson argued that then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi's move to rip up a copy of his State of the Union speech was a crime. “A lot of people have been talking about this the last 48 hours, and I did a little legal memo to point out to my colleagues that she actually committed a felony,” Johnson said on Fox News at the time.
His solidly conservative voting record
Johnson's voting record has earned him a lifetime rating of 92% from the American Conservative Union and 90% from Heritage Action.
In Biden’s first two years, Johnson voted against a slew of bipartisan bills — including one to establish a Jan. 6 independent commission, the infrastructure law, reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, a modest new gun law and the CHIPS and Science Act.
He voted this year in favor of the debt limit law negotiated by McCarthy and Biden. But he voted against the stopgap bill to avert a government shutdown on Oct. 1.
Johnson also has a theory about how to tackle the Nov. 17 deadline to fund the government.
In an letter Monday shared by Rep. Harriet Hageman, R-Wyo., Johnson proposed another short-term funding bill through Jan. 15 or April 15, "based on what can obtain Conference consensus," he wrote, "to ensure the Senate cannot jam the House with a Christmas omnibus." He also proposed a schedule for passing conservative appropriations bills in the interim.
Last month, Johnson was among 93 Republicans who voted for an amendment by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., to cut off U.S. military assistance for Ukraine.
His opposition to abortion and LGBTQ rights
Johnson has a spotless history of voting against legal abortion, earning an "A+" rating from Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. Abortion rights proponents have noted his work from 2010 as a senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, citing a letter in which he fought to shut down an abortion clinic in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
He voted against bipartisan legislation to codify same-sex marriage, which Biden signed into law last year.
Johnson authored legislation called the Stop the Sexualization of Children Act of 2022, which "prohibits the use of federal funds to develop, implement, facilitate, or fund any sexually-oriented program, event, or literature for children under the age of 10," his office said. Critics have dubbed it a federal "don't say gay" measure and argued that it's aimed at barring references to LGBTQ people.
In a statement promoting the bill, Johnson accused Democrats of waging “a misguided crusade to immerse young children in sexual imagery and radical gender ideology.”
A spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ rights group, labeled Johnson “Jim Jordan with a jacket and a smile,” referring to the right-wing firebrand from Ohio who chairs the House Judiciary Committee.
Johnson has also co-sponsored legislation by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., called the Protect Children’s Innocence Act, which would make it a crime to provide gender-affirming care to people under 18 years of age.
He has Trump's stamp of approval, sort of
Wednesday morning, hours before an expected vote, Trump, the de facto leader of the Republican Party, said he wasn't technically endorsing Johnson but suggesting the House elect him.
"I am not going to make an Endorsement in this race, because I COULD NEVER GO AGAINST ANY OF THESE FINE AND VERY TALENTED MEN, all of whom have supported me, in both mind and spirit, from the very beginning of our GREAT 2016 Victory. In 2024, we will have an even bigger, & more important, WIN! My strong SUGGESTION is to go with the leading candidate, Mike Johnson, & GET IT DONE, FAST!" Trump wrote on his social media platform.
During the speaker battle, Trump proved more adept at hurting candidates than helping them win — his early endorsee, Jordan, flamed out on the floor. But Johnson's ability to avoid Trump's ire cleared a hurdle for him within the House GOP, which is attuned to the wishes of the "MAGA" base.
Gaetz called him "MAGA Mike Johnson" in an appearance Wednesday on right-wing host Steve Bannon's podcast.
After he was elected to the position, Trump posted: "Congratulations to Rep. Mike Johnson. He will be a GREAT 'SPEAKER.' MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!"
A relatively inexperienced speaker
With less than seven years under his belt, Johnson has a shorter length of service in the House than past speakers in modern history. McCarthy was in the House for 16 years before he was elected speaker, Pelosi had 20 years of experience, Paul Ryan served for 16 years, and John Boehner had 20 years before he ascended to the top job.
Before the vote Wednesday, numerous members of Congress said they knew little about Johnson, with some Republican senators saying they had never even met him.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said that he knew “very little about him” but that it would “be interesting to see how the House runs if they choose a speaker that has no experience in leadership or as a committee chair. ... Inexperience seems to be a qualification.”
The vote makes Johnson the first speaker ever elected on the fourth ballot of an election. When speaker elections have gone to multiple ballots, no speaker has ever been elected on ballots four to eight.
It is also the first time since before the Civil War that the original leading speaker candidate for a party dropped out after votes had been cast on the floor. The last time that happened was during the election of 1859-60, when freshman Republican William Pennington of New Jersey was elected on the 44th ballot, only after the initial leading Republican candidate, John Sherman of Ohio, withdrew.
Johnson becomes the first speaker from Louisiana, and the top two House Republicans are now from the state: Johnson and Majority Leader Steve Scalise.