Mike Johnson’s political reference work is the Bible. When a journalist asked him what his position was on various subjects, he replied: “Take a Bible from the library and read it. That’s my view of the world.” It is not just God who inspires his political choices. Incidentally, the new speaker (president) of the House of Representatives is also a convinced Trumpist. The rise of this obscure Louisiana elected official at the age of 51 to this crucial position says a lot about the extreme drift of the Republican Party.
As a constitutional lawyer, he for years defended evangelical groups that campaigned to erode the separation of church and state by imposing prayer and Bible study in schools, or the erection of monuments to the glory of the Ten Commandments in public places… Father of four children, he adopted a black teenager, also fought against abortion – the origin, according to him, of ” an American holocaust” – against gay marriage, LGBT rights. He continued his crusade by entering politics, first in the local Louisiana Congress, then in 2016 in the House of Representatives.
Like many evangelical Christians, Mike Johnson initially believed that Donald Trump was “dangerous” and devoid of “morality”. He changed his mind when the ex-president appointed conservative justices to the Supreme Court who eliminated abortion protections at the federal level. Having become one of his loyal allies, he played a central role in the attempt to manipulate the results of the last presidential election. On January 6, 2021, he was also one of those who refused to validate the election of Joe Biden while the Trumpists stormed the Capitol. “We must fight for the integrity of the election, the Constitution, and the preservation of our republic!” he tweeted, saying he would “lead the battle”.
Three years later, the man who had, in fact, threatened democracy, found himself at the head of the House. A surprise victory which came after three weeks of violent infighting. Exhausted, the Republicans ended up lining up behind Mike Johnson, an affable and courteous character, at the end of October. By choosing him, they “decided to further increase Trumpist extremism and dysfunction,” summarized Bobby Scott, a Democratic elected official from Virginia. “This episode is another sign that the Republican Party is no longer that of Ronald Reagan. It is the party of Donald Trump,” adds Matthew Continetti, analyst at the American Enterprise Institute think tank.
If the new speaker is much more conservative than his predecessors, he faces the same obstacles. He must face obstruction, in his own party, from his even more extreme friends, hostile to any compromise and who, given the slim majority of Republicans in the House, have enormous power. Will he be their hostage or play their game and cause more chaos? Tensions have already been felt over the budget vote, which he pushed back until the end of January without including major cuts, which infuriated the ultraconservatives.
His first major legislative maneuver was not very successful. Instead of passing the overall amount of $106 billion primarily for aid to Israel and Ukraine, as the White House wanted, the House, under the leadership of Mike Johnson, only approved the part of 14 billion planned for the Hebrew State. A way to please Trumpist elected officials who are increasingly opposed to supporting kyiv. The speaker finished off infuriating the Democrats by decreeing that this aid should be financed by cuts in the budget of the IRS, the American tax authorities, the conservatives’ bête noire. Ultimately the maneuver was of no use. The Senate rejected the measure. And everything is blocked.
As for Ukraine, the Republicans are now asking as a condition for sending the promised 61 billion, an immigration reform to limit the influx of migrants. A highly sensitive subject which will probably require long and difficult negotiations. Mike Johnson said he was “confident” of reaching an agreement by Christmas.
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