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October 26, 2023

A Different Kind of House Speaker

Louisiana’s Mike Johnson is a rock-ribbed Christian conservative who seems to be able to get along with everyone.

By late yesterday morning, we in our humble shop had a hunch that Louisiana’s Mike Johnson would be our nation’s next House speaker. And, sure enough, he is. By a unanimous GOP vote early yesterday afternoon — 220 Republican votes for Johnson, 209 Democrat votes for Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries — the Christian conservative congressman whom New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik said “epitomizes servant leadership” became the 56th speaker of the House.

“And not a New York minute too soon,” said an exasperated Mark Alexander.

Having been sworn in to his new role immediately after his acceptance speech, Johnson now succeeds Kevin McCarthy, who was ousted on October 3 by eight Republicans in coalition with the entire Democrat caucus.

Say what you will about those eight Republicans — Florida’s Matt Gaetz, Arizona’s Andy Biggs, Colorado’s Ken Buck, Tennessee’s Tim Burchett, Arizona’s Eli Crane, Virginia’s Bob Good, South Carolina’s Nancy Mace, and Montana’s Matt Rosendale — but the three weeks of utter chaos they created by ousting McCarthy ultimately resulted in the right man at the right time. And that oh-so-clever Democrat conference should’ve been more careful about what they wished for. Because the relatively brief drug-like rush they got at their Republican colleagues’ expense ended yesterday with the election of a younger, smarter, smoother, more constitutionally conservative Republican speaker.

Have a nice day, Democrats!

To the political junkies who watched yesterday’s floor vote unfold, it must’ve been sweet to see Johnson jump ahead of Jeffries without bleeding a single GOP protest vote — not to former Speaker McCarthy, not to Johnson’s fellow Louisianian Steve Scalise, not to former New York congressman and gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin. This was an early indication that the conference was utterly united behind Johnson and ready to get the House back in order, eager to get the 118th Congress back to work.

Perhaps disturbed by Johnson’s Christian credentials and his support for traditional marriage, Minnesota Democrat Angie Craig engaged in some disgraceful political grandstanding during the vote call, shouting, “Happy wedding anniversary to my wife!” before casting her voice vote for Jeffries.

Prior to becoming speaker, the four-term Republican was the GOP conference vice chair and served on multiple key congressional committees. On Tuesday night, he outpolled another rising star in the party, Florida’s Byron Donalds, in a head-to-head secret ballot after Tennessee’s Mark Green and Texas’s Roger Williams withdrew their names from consideration. As we noted yesterday, Johnson is a Freedom Caucus member with a strong 91 American Conservative Union rating, and he’s also a past president of the highly influential Republican Study Committee, the largest committee in the GOP conference. Above all, though, he’s both smart and likable, two attributes that sometimes seem to be in short supply, especially in the Beltway.

Johnson was on Donald Trump’s impeachment defense team, and he was against the certification of the grievously flawed 2020 election. When Trump was asked yesterday about Johnson, the once and perhaps future president called him “a tremendous congressman respected by everybody.” Indeed, Johnson isn’t a polarizer, and he doesn’t draw the fire that some “America First” Republicans do. And while the Democrats are already calling him “MAGA Mike,” we suspect he’ll smile and nod and roll with that moniker and ultimately bring credit to it.

Still, even at this early stage in his tenure, Johnson appears to be making all the right, er, detractors, as this post from sleazy Adam Schiff makes clear: “You might be Googling who Mike Johnson is this morning. Let me make it simple: Johnson is a hard-right, pro-Trump, leading election denier in the House. Sadly, this is what passes for Speaker material in the Republican conference.”

Wow. You mad, bro?

Interestingly, Schiff and every single one of his sore-losing Democrat colleagues voted for a hard-right hard-left, pro-Trump anti-Trump, leading election denier in the House: Hakeem Jeffries.

We should note that Johnson and Jeffries know each other, at least roughly, because they served on the House Judiciary Committee together. We’ll see whether Jeffries, who’s 0-19 in speakership races, is interested in working across the aisle or simply obstructing Johnson, who’s undefeated in speakership races.

More fitting was this post from Florida Congresswoman Kat Cammack, who wished Johnson well before yesterday’s floor vote: “Congratulations to my friend Mike Johnson! As our new Speaker designee, he has already made incredible strides bringing our conference together. He is a good man and a constitutional conservative. He believes in #WeThePeople! Together, we serve on the Weaponization subcommittee. The new era of vision, faith, and freedom is here. Let’s do this!”

And this quote from a fellow Louisianian: “I have seen this man in action since he was a state representative,” said House Majority Whip Steve Scalise. “I’ve seen a commitment, a self-service commitment, to things bigger than himself.”

After an all-House quorum vote, Stefanik, who chairs the Republican conference for which Johnson was vice chair, nominated her colleague in a speech that lasted just under seven minutes. Of Johnson, Stefanik said:

A deeply respected constitutional lawyer, Mike has dedicated his life to preserving America’s great principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Mike is a titan on the Judiciary Committee and a dedicated member of the House Armed Services Committee. And as vice chair of our conference, he has united all of our members to speak clearly and boldly on behalf of the American people. A friend to all and an enemy to none, Mike is strong, tough, and fair, and above all, Mike is kind.

Stefanik concluded: “The people are looking to this great chamber to save America. And save America, we will. And as we embark on the path ahead, I am reminded of Galatians 6:9: ‘And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season, we will reap if we do not give up.’ House Republicans and Speaker Mike Johnson will never give up,” she said. “Today is the day we get this done. May God bless our next speaker, Mike Johnson. May God bless the United States of America, and I yield back.”

Then came the vote, then the final tally, then Johnson’s turn to speak. He didn’t disappoint. He gave a great and stirring speech, especially on what had to be extremely short notice.

He began in a classy way, by acknowledging his Democrat colleagues. Then he thanked “our speaker emeritus, Kevin McCarthy, [who] is the reason we’re in this majority today.”

As The Wall Street Journal reports: “Johnson, 51 years old, represents Louisiana’s deep-red fourth district, in the state’s northwest that includes Shreveport, where he grew up. Johnson is the son of a firefighter who was critically burned and disabled in the line of duty. He is the father of four children of his own.”

During his speech, Johnson noted that he was the first member of his family to graduate from college and that his dad died of cancer just three days before he was elected to Congress in 2016. As the Journal continues: “He has been an attorney with a focus on social conservative issues, including defending the state’s same-sex marriage ban before the Louisiana Supreme Court. His opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion along with support for religious freedoms has continued to guide him as a legislator.”

“I believe that each one of us has a huge responsibility today,” said Johnson, the first speaker from the state of Louisiana. “To use the gifts that God has given us to serve the extraordinary people of this great country.”

He thanked his wife and his four kids, and the Lord. And his mother, whom he said bore him at age 17. He talked about the House as an institution. Talked about “the beauty of America that allows a firefighter’s kid like me to come and serve in this sacred chamber.” Talked about how his House predecessors had continually strived together to improve what Lincoln called “the last best hope of man on earth.” Talked about how “a strong America is good for the entire world.”

Johnson is an unapologetic man of faith, and it was clear in this passage:

I believe that Scripture, the Bible, is very clear — that God is the one that raises up those in authority. He raised up each of you, all of us. And I believe that God has ordained and allowed each of us to be brought here for this specific moment in this time. This is my belief. I believe that each one of us has a huge responsibility today: To use the gifts that God has given us to serve the extraordinary people of this great country. And they deserve it. And to ensure that our Republic remains standing as the great beacon of light and hope and freedom in a world that desperately needs it.

For that, he received a bipartisan standing ovation.

He noted our Declaration of Independence, which he called our birth certificate. And he quoted British author and Christian apologist G.K. Chesterton, who said that America “is the only nation in the world that was founded on a creed.”

Johnson promised that the first bill he’d bring to the floor would be a bill in support of Israel (and he did so hours later). Then he shifted to our southern border: “The status quo is unacceptable,” he said. “Inaction is unacceptable. And we must come together and address the broken border. We have to do it.”

He then addressed the skyrocketing cost of living, the prices that have increased 17% in the last two years. And to fix it? “We have to bring relief to the American people by reining in federal spending and bringing down inflation.”

Then, in a breath of fresh air, Johnson didn’t say that global warming was the greatest threat we face. Instead, he said this: “The greatest threat to our national security is our nation’s debt. And while we’ve been sitting in this room, the debt has crossed almost $33.6 trillion dollars. And in the time it’s going to take me to deliver this speech, we’ll go up another $20 million in debt. It’s unsustainable. We have to get the country back on track. … 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. And we’re going to establish a bipartisan debt commission to begin working on this crisis immediately. Immediately.”

He noted that we live in a time of bitter partisanship — partisanship that had been painfully evident there among his colleagues. He then invoked Ronald Reagan, the Great Communicator, who said he was merely communicating great things.

“What are those great things?” Johnson asked.

“I call them the seven core principles of American conservatism, but let me concede to you all: I think it’s really quintessentially the core principles of our nation. I boil them down to individual freedom, limited government, the rule of law, peace through strength, fiscal responsibility, free markets, and human dignity. Those are the foundations that made us the extraordinary nation that we are today.”

We’d do well to write them down.

“I believe in my heart that the best days of America are still ahead of us,” Johnson said in conclusion. “God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.”

We have a sense we’re going to like Speaker Mike Johnson.

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