The House of Representatives devolved into chaos after Kevin McCarthy was ousted as speaker on Oct. 3. During the frustrating three-week stalemate that followed, three Republican representatives failed to clinch the top position.
The impasse finally broke on Oct. 25, when House Republicans rallied behind Mike Johnson, a previously little-known Republican representative from Louisiana who joined Congress in 2017 and is only in his fourth term.
Johnson’s ascension quickly drew ire from Democrats, who have since pilloried his apparent lack of leadership experience and lambasted his stance on various issues, especially abortion, homosexuality, and the 2020 election.
Even some Republican senators have seemed bemused by the Louisiana congressman’s breakout.
Susan Collins, Maine’s senior senator, said she had no idea who Johnson was and needed to look him up on Google.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune, the second-highest-ranked Senate Republican, noted just before Johnson’s election, “I don’t know him. May have met him, but that’s about it.”
Similarly, Sen. John Barrasso, who ranks third among Republican senators, said that his knowledge of Johnson came primarily from “just what [he’d] read in the papers and in the reports online in the last day.”
Now second in line to the presidency, only after Vice President Kamala Harris, Johnson is certainly worth knowing more about. Here is where our new House speaker stands on six critical issues dividing America.
Johnson, a staunch advocate for anti-abortion efforts, earned an A+ rating in 2021 from Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, an influential advocacy organization that “seeks to reduce and ultimately end abortion in the U.S.”
On Nov. 5, Johnson told Fox News Sunday host Shannon Bream, “I’m pro-life. I’ve said very clearly I’m a Bible-believing Christian. I believe in the sanctity of every single human life.”
This January, Johnson supported the Defund Planned Parenthood Act, a bill introduced by Rep. Michelle Fischbach that would prohibit the pro-choice group and its affiliates from accessing federal funds unless they agreed to not perform abortions.
The Louisianian has also reportedly co-sponsored three bills intended to outlaw certain abortions nationwide, including the Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children From Late-Term Abortions Act in Sept. 2022, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in Jan. 2022, and the Heartbeat Protection Act in Feb. 2021.
After the Supreme Court eliminated the constitutional right to abortion by overturning Roe v. Wade last June, Johnson said on Fox News, “Many of us have been working towards this day our entire adult lives and it is a joyous occasion.”
In a 2005 op-ed, Johnson denounced abortion as “a holocaust that has been repeated every day for 32 years” and argued that the judicial philosophy used to justify abortions was “no different than Hitler’s.”
“This disregard for life has been fostered by the courts,” Johnson noted in the op-ed. “During business hours today, 4,500 innocent American children will be killed.”
Democratic activist Hannah Muldavin, however, labeled Johnson as “extreme and out of touch with the country,” adding that Johnson being elected speaker is “an endorsement of his extreme views that threaten our democracy and the rights of Americans.”
2. Gun control
Johnson has consistently voted against gun reforms and in favor of protecting gun owners’ rights. The National Rifle Association lauded him as a “Second Amendment stalwart” in an X post noting his appointment to the speakership.
During his first interview as speaker, Johnson offered “thoughts and prayers” to the families of victims in the Oct. 25 Maine shootings, while insisting that gun violence is fundamentally a mental health issue.
“At the end of the day, the problem is the human heart,” Johnson told Fox News host Sean Hannity. “It’s not guns. It’s not the weapons.”
Last year Johnson voted against the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which was later signed into law by President Joe Biden and became the first major gun legislation in almost three decades.
“The new Republican Speaker Mike Johnson has voted AGAINST every gun legislation bill introduced to Congress,” Democratic activist Victor Shi said, adding that “I don’t want to hear a single thought or prayer from him. I want action. Now.”
Similarly, gun control advocacy group Giffords accused Johnson of “[opposing] every bipartisan effort on gun safety” and “[putting] the gun lobby ahead of public safety every time.”
In an interview last year, Johnson claimed that gun reform advocates “have a zeal, really, a quest, a goal to disarm the populace” and “no regard for the Constitution at all,” singling out President Biden for showing “disdain” for Americans’ constitutional rights.
3. LGBTQ rights
Kelley Robinson, president of America’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, denounced Johnson for “his disdain for the LGBTQ+ community” and for “[introducing] legislation that seeks to erase us from society.”
“This is a choice that will be a stain on the record of everyone who voted for him,” Robinson said about Johnson’s appointment to the speakership, while calling him “the most anti-equality” Speaker in U.S. history.
There is no doubt that Johnson holds solidly conservative views on homosexuality and gay marriage. The Louisianian has, for example, called gay marriage “the dark harbinger of chaos and sexual anarchy that could doom even the strongest republic.”
Johnson also wrote an editorial advocating for a constitutional amendment ensuring that marriage is “limited in our state to the union of one man and one woman.”
Describing homosexual relationships as “inherently unnatural” and “ultimately harmful and costly for everyone,” he warned that if marriage were redefined for this “tiny, modern minority,” we would have to do the same for other “deviant” groups, including polygamists, polyamorists, and pedophiles.
“There will be no legal basis to deny a bisexual the right to marry a partner of each sex, or a person to marry his pet,” he added.
In a prominent amicus brief for a Supreme Court case, Johnson argued that sex between men is more likely to spread sexually transmitted diseases, posing “a distinct public health problem,” and should therefore be banned.
Johnson also introduced the Stop the Sexualization of Children Act in Congress last October, prohibiting federally funded schools from teaching children under age 10 about gender ideology, transgenderism, and other sexually oriented topics. Critics see Johnson’s bill as the federal version of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” law.
4. The 2020 election
Even three years into Joe Biden’s presidency, the nation has remained sharply divided over whether his win over former president Donald Trump was legitimate, with 69 percent of right-leaning Americans believing the election to be illegitimate, according to a CNN poll.
The New York Times dubbed Johnson “the most important architect of the Electoral College objections” during the 2020 presidential election.
Johnson, a Trump ally, spearheaded an amicus brief, signed by 125 House Republicans, in support of a Texas lawsuit alleging election fraud.
Four swing states skewed election results by “unlawfully enacting last-minute changes and ignoring both federal and state election laws,” the lawsuit stated, demanding investigations before Biden’s victory could be certified.
According to an email Johnson sent out to Republican colleagues, Trump personally called Johnson to thank him for his amicus brief in the Texas lawsuit and to ask him to “contact all Republican Members of the House and Senate today and request that all join on to our brief.”
Following the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot, Congress convened to officially vote on whether to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election. Johnson was one of the 147 Republicans who voted against certifying the election.
Johnson supports lawful immigration, describing America as a “nation of immigrants” with the world’s most “benevolent” asylum program, but has firmly insisted on quashing illegal immigration.
In a Fox News interview on Nov. 5, he tore into the Biden administration for causing and ignoring the “absolute humanitarian and now national security crisis” at the U.S.-Mexico border, noting that “[Democratic leaders] could reverse it overnight if they wanted to, but they don’t.”
Johnson emphasized the need to secure America’s own border first and accused Democratic leaders of not listening to their constituents, but succumbing to their personal agenda.
Citing the more than 6.3 million illegal immigrants who have come into the U.S. since Biden became president, he said, “We cannot continue this. Everyone knows it. And the fentanyl that’s coming over the border, human trafficking, the cartels making billions of dollars off of our backs, we are going to stop that.”
According to Johnson, the crisis at America’s southern border is a direct, foreseeable result of the Biden administration’s disastrous policy choices. And one main reason the Democrats have allowed mass illegal border crossings is their desire to “turn all these illegals into voters for their side.”
Johnson noted that illegal immigration must be stopped for the sake of not only the American people, but also the immigrants themselves. In order for America to continue being a safe haven for immigrants, he argued, it must remain a sovereign country, have a secure border, and maintain the rule of law.
6. The Israel–Hamas war
On Oct. 7, Hamas terrorists murdered hundreds of Israeli civilians and kidnapped dozens in a surprise invasion of Israel. The Israeli government has since launched a counteroffensive, vowing to “eliminate Hamas.”
Johnson has shown unwavering support for Israel, with his first order of business as speaker being the passage of a $14.5 billion package to provide Israel with military aid.
To the ire of many Democrats, Johnson said that he would offset the spending by pulling some federal funding from the Internal Revenue Service, instead of printing or borrowing more money.
Johnson said that he and other House Republicans are trying to be “good stewards of the taxpayers’ resources,” adding that protecting Israel should be prioritized “over hiring more IRS agents.”
On Oct. 27, he attended the Republican Jewish Coalition Summit in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he said “we will stand with Israel” and “there will be a ceasefire when Hamas ceases to be a threat to Israel.”
Johnson also noted that he reaffirmed the House’s “strong support” for Israel in a phone call that evening with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
When Fox News asked him about the thousands of anti-Israel protestors who stormed the nation’s capital on Nov. 4, Johnson condemned the protestors and said he was surprised by “this level of antisemitism that has sprung up around the country.”
Johnson’s first two weeks as speaker have been surprisingly fruitful, without any of the hiccups one might have expected from a relatively inexperienced congressman.
He has become, as NBC News put it, “a unifying force in a GOP Conference that just days earlier had been in an all-out civil war.”
Gary Palmer, the chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, spoke highly of him last Friday: “[Johnson] is very level-headed, not one to get emotional. He’s a great communicator and he’s focused.”
But Johnson still has much to prove. Republican Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, while praising the level of support Johnson has managed to command, noted that “everybody comes out of a honeymoon at some point,” citing his own marriage of 52 years.