Updated: Oct 29
Self-made man has roots in populist movement and election integrity
Newly elected Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-La.) takes his oath of office at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Oct. 25, 2023. After a contentious nominating period, Mr. Johnson was voted in to succeed former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who was ousted on Oct. 4. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
By Patrice Johnson | October 27, 2023 (Revised Oct. 28)
“All I ever aspired to be was a fireman," U.S. Representative Mike Johnson once remarked. Now, in an unprecedented turn of events, the House of Representatives has removed former Speaker Kevin McCarthy and appointed Johnson as the new Speaker. After a tumultuous 23 days to select a new leader for this influential position, House Republicans elected Rep. Johnson of Louisiana with 220 votes, comfortably surpassing the necessary 21. No doubt, the 51-year-old constitutional lawyer will have no end of fires to put out as he navigates complex and searing issues that will shape the trajectory of Congress and the nation.
Johnson, previously vice chair of the House Republican Conference and with just nine years of politics under his belt, wasted no time in addressing critical issues and sorting out his priorities, number one: the national debt as the cause of inflation.
He took the gavel and formally stepped into his leadership role on the House floor, stating,
“The greatest threat to our national security is our nation’s debt, and while we’ve been sitting in this room – that’s right – the debt has crossed almost $33.6 trillion, and in time it’s going to take me to deliver this speech, we will go up $20 million in debt. It’s unsustainable,”
The remarks prompted a standing ovation from Republicans and a handful of Democrats seated in the chamber.
“We have to get the country back on track. We know this isn’t going to be an easy task, and tough decisions will have to be made. But the consequences if we don’t act now are unbearable. We have a duty to the American people to explain this to them, so they understand it well.”
Johnson, who grew up poor and is the first in his family to graduate college, pledged to establish a bipartisan debt commission “to begin working on this crisis immediately.”
Watch: First speech as speaker
Johnson cited excessive government spending and the rising national debt as key contributors to the staggering inflationary pressures that American families have been grappling with in recent years.
“The skyrocketing cost of living is unsustainable and Americans shouldn’t have to worry about how they’re going to feed their family every week because they can’t afford their groceries anymore. Everybody in this room should think about this.” He then gave the statistics. “[P]rices increased by 17% over the last two years. Credit card rates are at their highest levels and mortgage rates are at a peak we haven’t seen since 2001. We have to bring relief to the American people by reining in federal spending and bringing down inflation.”
Election integrity & states’ rights
Johnson’s stance on issues will likely set the tone for the party’s direction, and if past is prelude, election integrity and citizen rights will become focal points.
The 51-year-old speaker’s rise took root in the growing populist movement and adds a promising layer to his leadership. The relatively unknown representative from Louisiana gained prominence for his role on former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment defense team. Johnson played a crucial part in efforts to investigate suspected wrong-doing during the 2020 presidential election. He circulated an email urging his colleagues to support the Texas’ lawsuit to decertify election results in Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. These states’ governors (executive branches) had violated the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause, he said, when they instituted legally unauthorized mail-in voting policies without legislative approval.
The Supreme Court rejected the request on the basis of standing, so Johnson recommended Congress vote against certifying the Electoral College results on January 6, 2021.
Johnson, married and father of four, is a vocal proponent of states’ rights and protecting Americans' constitutional rights and freedoms. He has voted against progressives’ repeated attempts to federalize elections.
Johnson has until Nov. 17 to pass a federal budget and avoid a government shutdown. This negotiation will be the first major test of his speakership, and insiders are hinting at the possibility of a temporary spending bill extending until January.
The fiscal challenges are underscored by the record deficit for fiscal year 2023, amounting to $1.7 trillion. President Biden’s revised student loan plan, estimated to cost about $475 billion over 10 years, is not factored into this deficit.
In addition to economic concerns, Johnson urged the Senate and White House to tackle the pressing issue of illegal immigration.
“We have a catastrophe at our southern border. The Senate and the White House can no longer ignore the problem. From Texas to New York, wave after wave of illegal migrants are stressing our communities to their breaking points. We know that our streets are being flooded with fentanyl in all of our communities. Children and even adults are dying from it,” he said. “The status quo is unacceptable. Inaction is unacceptable and we must come together to address the broken border. We have to do it.”
Johnson pledged to “decentralize” the power of the speaker’s office.
“The job of the speaker of the House is to serve the whole body, and I will. But I made a commitment to my colleagues here that this speaker’s office is going to be known for decentralizing the power here. My office is going to be known for members being more involved and having more influence in our processes in all the major decisions that are made here for predictable processes and regular order. We owe that to the people.”
“I want to make this commitment to you, to my colleagues here, and the other side of aisle as well. My office is known for trust, transparency and accountability, for good stewardship of the people’s treasure, for the honesty and integrity that is incumbent upon us, all of us, here in the people’s house.”
Johnson's father was a firefighter in Shreveport and suffered burns over 80 percent of his body in 1984 in an explosion that killed a fire captain. Johnson was 12. He witnessed firsthand the miracle of his father's survival, despite all medical prognoses, and this changed his life. Not only did he become a devote Christian, his parents, he has recalled, “wouldn’t let us be firemen after that.”
“Our system of government is not a perfect system,” Johnson admitted. “It has a lot of challenges, but it’s still the best one in the world, and we have an opportunity to preserve it.”
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