What to expect from Speaker Johnson

Elections & Politics Policy Brief #108 | By: William Borque | November 19, 2023
Photo taken from: vox.com

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Mike Johnson was not expected to be in this position.  The fourth-term Congressman out of Western Louisiana was not on many Bingo cards as the next speaker of the house…but here we are.  Despite his low profile nationwide, Johnson was a somewhat known commodity inside the beltway, being seen at McCarthy’s side during the grueling 15 rounds of voting in January and throughout his tenure as Speaker.  Johnson got his professional start as a constitutional lawyer, which tends to be a pretty good path for successful politicians (about half of all U.S Presidents were also lawyers). He worked on a variety of religious liberty cases, ranging from anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion cases to defending a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark (yes, that’s a real thing). But don’t get it twisted, Mike Johnson is one of the most extreme members of Congress.

When asked by Fox News host Sean Hannity about his beliefs, Johnson said “someone asked me today in the media, ‘People are curious, what does Mike Johnson think about any issue under the sun?’ I said, ‘Well, go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it. That’s my worldview.” He has been staunchly against abortion, calling Roe v. Wade one of the worst judicial decisions of all time.  Johnson also holds another viewpoint that many find questionable for a constitutional lawyer, regarding separation of church and state.  “The founders wanted to protect the church from an encroaching state, not the other way around” he said in a 2022 podcast episode.

Speaker Johnson has stated several times that he plans to separate aid to Ukraine and Israel, something which he officially did by introducing a package on Monday that draws from President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act. While most Democrats support aid to Israel, many have said they will not support this bill because of where it draws funding.  Another issue that Johnson faces is yet another looming government shutdown, which he has already said that he plans on changing positions from his predecessor by passing a continuing resolution (CR). CR’s keep the government funded at the current levels for a certain amount of time, and that is what the government is currently operating under.

Former Speaker McCarthy got lots of pushback from the conference for passing CR’s, mostly from the far-right Freedom Caucus who eventually ended up ousting him. Expect Johnson to pass a CR through the holiday season, as lawmakers hate nothing more than being forced to do their jobs when everyone else gets a break. A source in the House GOP conference tells US Renew News that one of the reasons they believe the party rallied around Johnson was simply exhaustion.  Johnson will be able to pass one CR to fund the government through the new year, but the real fight will begin in January or February when

It’s hard not to think that Johnson will be able to be an effective Speaker with the looming threat of removal—just like McCarthy before him. Johnson is already struggling to pass legislation with a razor-thin majority which may be a precursor for a struggling tenure as Speaker. Sources inside the House GOP say that members respect Johnson for his willingness to step into a rather undesirable job at the moment, but also that they feel they have a lot of leverage in terms of what legislation comes to the floor.  Watch for some moderate Democrats to try to strike deals with Johnson as well, specifically folks like Jared Golden (ME-02), Mary Peltola (AK), and Matt Cartwright (PA-08).  Their votes could be vital if the farthest right members of the GOP look to buck the party.

Watch to see how effective Speaker Johnson is in his first few weeks as the new Speaker of the House. If he drags his feet and can’t pass legislation or unite the party, we may very well be headed for another battle for the Speakership.  The GOP has proven again and again that they can’t seem to legislative effectively—and the country will be watching closely to see if they can pull it together.

 

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