(Photo courtesy of World Today News). “Jim Jordan being sworn in as the Speaker of the House of Representatives.”
After several failed votes over the last month for different Speakers of the House, including Representatives Steve Scalese, Jim Jordan and Tom Emmer (among several other candidates), the fourth and final speaker vote was decided on October 25 in favor of Louisiana Representative Mike Johnson. For many the decision comes as a surprise, given that he received no supporters in the three previous votes.
This decision for a new Speaker comes in the wake of the historic ousting of former Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Back in early October, Florida Representative Matt Gaetz initiated a “motion to vacate” that was only possible as part of the deal McCarthy first struck to narrowly secure his speakership in January of this year.
Representative Johnson is something of a fresh face in the media cycle, with even those more politically savvy being unfamiliar with his presence in Washington. This would make sense given that his career in politics only began recently. Johnson’s first elected office was in the Louisiana House of Representatives back in 2015. Just one year later he was elected as a Representative of Louisiana’s 4th Congressional district. Since then, he has been reelected three additional times, with his latest election in 2022 being won unopposed.
Before his life in politics, Johnson was a lawyer, earning his Juris Doctor degree from Louisiana State University in 1998. In the nearly two decades afterward he served as legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund (now the Alliance Defending Freedom), a Christian legal advocacy group. The ADF has argued several times before the Supreme Court, primarily focusing on support for religious activity in public schools and restrictions on same-sex marriage.
UMass Lowell professor of Political Science John Cluverius contends that despite our typical polarized politics, this choice for Speaker is driven more by personality than ideology. “Johnson’s ideology is not really relevant to the members of Congress that were voting for him or against,” Cluverius said. He additionally says, “While he has expressed these very conservative views, he is not known as a bomb-thrower [or] as someone who has existed to oppose, say, Kevin McCarthy’s previous efforts to pass normal spending bills and things like that.”
Cluverius says that one advantage with regards to consensus building for the new Speaker is his reputation among Republicans or rather a lack thereof. “He is the most junior Speaker we have had in recent memory… so the result [is] that he hasn’t really made a ton of enemies.”
This is not to say that his ideology will not play a role in his policy positions or public acceptance, however. Johnson is considered to be a very religious conservative, holding hardline positions against abortion and gay marriage. Johnson also voted against certifying the 2020 election, another highly contentious fault line in modern American politics. Despite this, Cluverius expects that his personal views will be moderated by the political reality of the very slim Republican majority in the House. “By the nature of his job he is going to have to forge a compromise with a Democratic President and a Democratic Senate Leader.”
According to Cluverius, the biggest issue facing Johnson’s Speakership will be how his views on both abortion and the 2020 election could affect more moderate Republicans vying for reelection in key swing states. A typical strategy for any out-party, in this case the House Democrats, is often to run in opposition to the leader in the House, rather than their local Republican opponent. This situation has occurred several times in the past when more conservative Republicans fought against more moderate Democrats. Campaign advertisements at the time focused far more on criticisms of Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, to drive moderate voters away from her more extreme left-wing stances.
Much like the tenure of his predecessor McCarthy, Johnson’s Speakership is still fragile, and for the same reasons. The current House is still operating under the new rule of only a single vote being necessary to initiate yet another motion to vacate. As Johnson settles into his new role as Speaker, both the voters and media will be paying close attention to his early decisions. Only time will tell how his personal views will impact his style as Speaker of the House.