Who is Mike Johnson? New U.S. House speaker belongs to GOP’s religious conservative wing
The far-right Louisiana lawmaker opposed certifying the 2020 election and tried to keep Trump in power
Newly elected U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La. delivers remarks with fellow Republicans on the East Front steps of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol on October 25, 2023 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images
Before a relatively short time in elected office, new U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana was a constitutional lawyer deeply involved in religious causes.
Prior to a short stint in the Louisiana Legislature, Johnson spent two decades as a public interest lawyer mainly representing clients in so-called religious liberty litigation, he said in an interview with C-SPAN shortly after joining Congress in 2017. He worked in private practice for the Kitchens Law Firm in North Louisiana, and also did work for the conservative Christian group Alliance Defending Freedom, according to a 2015 article in the New Orleans Time-Picayune.
He also “litigated high profile constitutional law cases” defending Second Amendment rights, free speech and free market principles, according to his campaign website.
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House Republicans’ choice of Johnson addressed two faults some members of the conference found with a previous speaker-designee who dropped out on Tuesday, Minnesota’s Tom Emmer.
Emmer voted to certify the 2020 presidential election, putting him at odds with former President Donald Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 presidential nomination, and for a bill codifying same-sex and interracial marriage. Johnson was on the other side of both votes.
The Louisianan was a strong backer of Trump’s claims that his reelection loss in 2020 was illegitimate. He led 126 House Republicans in an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in a case seeking to overturn Trump’s loss to Joe Biden in that election.
And Johnson voted to object to the 2020 election results from Arizona and Pennsylvania, even after a pro-Trump mob attacked the U.S. Capitol.
In Congress, Johnson has maintained a reputation as an opponent of abortion rights and same-sex marriage. He has an ‘A+’ rating from the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List in the last two sessions of Congress and a 100% rating for the current year from FRC Action, the legislative arm of the influential evangelical group Family Research Council.
The League of Conservation Voters, an environmental advocacy group, has given him a 2% lifetime rating, lower than all but 24 current House members, all Republicans.
He’s received $338,000 in campaign contributions to his personal campaign and leadership committee since 2015 from oil and gas interests influential in Louisiana — the most of any industry, according to Open Secrets, a nonprofit campaign finance tracking organization.
He’s also maintained ties to religious conservatives after coming to Washington.
He taught online college courses at Liberty University, a conservative Christian school in Virginia, earning him just less than $30,000 in 2022, according to his most recent personal financial disclosure, required for members of Congress.
His wife earned income in 2022 from Onward Christian Education Services Inc. and Louisiana Right to Life Educational Committee Inc., according to his financial disclosure.
Johnson’s voting record is strongly conservative, and he has little record of working across the aisle. He voted against high-profile bipartisan laws, including the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law, a gun safety law and a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
Johnson’s campaign fundraising operation has increased by small margins in each cycle since his first House run in 2016. He raised $1.1 million for his first run and over $1.3 million for his most recent reelection, according to Open Secrets. The numbers include money raised for Johnson’s leadership political action committees.
Part of a speaker’s role in modern times has been as a fundraising force for rank-and-file members. Johnson will have to expand his fundraising to replace the prolific Kevin McCarthy, whom eight GOP members ousted three weeks ago.
McCarthy, of California, has raised more than $15 million so far this cycle for his own campaign and his leadership committee. Emmer, the No. 3 House Republican, has raised $3.7 million. Johnson has raised just less than $600,000.
The largest single contributor to Johnson and his leadership PACs over his five campaigns has been Willis-Knighton Health System, a hospital system based in Shreveport whose employees have given $91,000 to Johnson’s campaigns.
House Freedom Fund, the political action committee associated with the far-right House Freedom Caucus, is his second-largest contributor. It has sent $58,000 to Johnson since the 2016 cycle.
A spokesperson for his House office did not respond to an inquiry about whom Johnson represented as an attorney.
Johnson’s legal work does not appear to have been overly profitable. He claimed no assets in his most recent financial disclosure, which is unusual.
House members are required to report any assets worth more than $1,000. Those assets can include real estate, retirement accounts, investment portfolios or simple savings accounts. Many members report millions of dollars in such assets.
Johnson listed between $280,000 and $600,000 in liabilities, most of which was from a home mortgage of between $250,000 and $500,000. The rest of his debt was split between a personal loan taken out in July 2016 and a home equity line of credit taken out in February 2019.
–Ariana Figueroa and Ashley Murray contributed to this report.
Low-key Mike Johnson, now U.S. House speaker, known at home as affable, conservative stalwart
by Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator
Before his surprising elevation to the role, U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson cut a conservative path as an unassuming Louisiana state lawmaker who authored proposals with a religious bent.
Even though his political stances have been divisive, those who’ve worked alongside and opposed him concur Johnson has an agreeable nature that could be tested as he attempts to heal rifts within his party and the chamber.
Johnson was unopposed in 2015 when he ran to fill a partial term in Louisiana House District 8, comprising a portion of Shreveport in the northwestern section of the state. It was his first run for political office after he had established himself as an attorney representing insurance companies.
More prominently, Johnson represented Freedom Guard, an organization that came to the defense of public officials who refused to follow the June 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision that recognized same-sex marriage.
State legislative record
During his first year in the legislature, Johnson crafted the Marriage and Conscience Act, which sought to protect anyone who objected to same-sex marriage for religious reasons. It failed to advance past a House committee.
State Rep. Jack McFarland, a Republican timber company owner, represents an area within Johnson’s congressional district. Both entered the Louisiana Legislature in 2015.
“He was extremely nice. He was not confrontational,” McFarland said. “And even when he disagreed with you, he did in a very respectful way.”
In the 2016 legislative session, Johnson proposed the Pastor Protection Act to shield church leaders from any practice that would go against their religious beliefs. Opponents saw it as another affront to same-sex marriage. It gained House approval but died in a Senate committee.
That same year, Johnson received near-unanimous approval for a law to prohibit “dismemberment abortion.” State Sen. Katrina Jackson of Monroe, then a member of the Louisiana House, was among those who crossed party lines to support Johnson’s bill. Jackson, a Black, anti-abortion Democrat, would go on to author the state’s strict abortion ban.
“Although we didn’t always agree, he knew how to disagree without being disagreeable,” Jackson said. “Any piece of legislation we worked on together that he was passionate about, he was extremely passionate, regardless of what opposition came up.”
Johnson’s wife, Kelly, is an adviser for Louisiana Right to Life, a prominent anti-abortion group. They are the parents of four children, including an adopted Black son.
In 1999, the Johnsons were among the first couples in Louisiana to choose a covenant marriage. Enshrined in state law, it requires premarital counseling and additional counseling if the couple wants to divorce.
“My own parents are divorced,” Mike Johnson told ABC News in a 2005 interview. “As anyone who goes through that knows, that was a traumatic thing for our whole family. I’m a big proponent of marriage and fidelity and all the things that go with it, and I’ve seen firsthand the devastation (divorce) can cause.”
Another formative moment in Johnson’s life was the near-death of his father, James Patrick “Pat” Johnson, in a 1984 cold storage facility fire. The elder Johnson was head of training for the Shreveport Fire Department when he sustained permanently disabling burns and his colleague, Capt. Percy Johnson, was killed.
Pat Johnson survived and became a prominent advocate for burn victims. He died of cancer in 2016, just three days after Mike Johnson was elected to Congress from Louisiana’s 4th Congressional District. Its boundaries include Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier Parish and the U.S. Army’s Fort William Henry Johnson.
Shreveport lawyer Marshall Jones, a Democrat who opposed Mike Johnson in that congressional race, refers to Pat Johnson as “a local hero.” He recalled an amicable campaign without any personal attacks and even came to Johnson’s defense when then-Louisiana Democratic Party chairman Karen Carter Peterson attacked his opponent.
“I’m thrilled that Mike is the new speaker,” Jones said. “We might not agree on everything politically, but I know Mike to be a good person, and a good man and a good listener.”
One vulnerability Johnson has is his close link to former President Donald Trump, Jones said. Trump endorsed Johnson in his run for U.S. House and would later make him part of his legal team during his second impeachment proceedings.
Johnson, along with more than 100 other U.S. House members, also signed a friend of the court brief in support of a Texas lawsuit that sought to invalidate 2020 presidential election results in four swing states Trump had lost.
“We both went to the same law school. We both had the same constitutional law professors, I’ll bet,” Jones said. “But, you know, we have a different interpretation of what the Constitution allows you to do with respect to trying to overturn a presidential election.”
However, Johnson’s consensus election as House speaker gives him a “clean slate” with which he can prioritize the multiple crises facing the country, Jones said.
“He’s going to have to step up and try to get along with everybody,” Jones said. “He’s got the basic ability to do that. But how much influence being a vocal supporter of former President Trump is, is going to be a big conflict. I’m hoping that he’ll be able to handle it because right now, the House is frozen. Everybody wants Mike to succeed, they really do.
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