Trump-anointed House speaker is an ominous step
What’s most disconcerting about Rep. Mike Johnson, the new House speaker, is not his extreme social and political conservatism, his wafer-thin resumé of seven years in Congress or his conspicuous efforts to help Donald Trump overturn the 2020 election.
It’s that Trump was instrumental in elevating this election denier to the speakership. The ultra-conservative Louisiana politician, who in the past has advocated criminalizing sex acts between consenting gay adults, is now second in line for the presidency and augers an even more extreme tilt to the House than under the hapless Kevin McCarthy.
It was always unprecedented for anyone with White House connections to meddle in congressional leadership politics. Trump has profoundly offended the separation of powers, a founding principle of American life. The issue was acute this time because the ex-president is the odds-on favorite to be his party’s nominee in 2024, and some polls show he could beat President Joe Biden.
“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny,” James Madison wrote in The Federalist 47.
The nation’s aspiring tyrant, despite facing 91 charges in four criminal cases, endorsed Johnson after torpedoing Tom Emmer of Minnesota, whom he had called a “globalist RINO” (Republican in name only).
Trump phoned House members who might not have gotten that message from the media, condemning Emmer to be the third caucus nominee to be eaten by its sharks. True to form, Trump was gloating.
“It’s done. He’s over. I killed him,” Politico reported that Trump said.
Congress owes the Constitution a respectful independence from the executive branch, especially when the president’s party has a majority in either or both houses. But Trump had most of the Republicans eating out of his hand when he was president, and he means to control them again.
Trump’s domination of virtually all elements of the Republican Party has no precedent, either. Not even the popular Ronald Reagan sought such iron-fisted control.
Johnson did more for Trump after the 2020 election than to vote against certifying Biden electors, as he and 146 other House Republicans did.
He also recruited 125 of them to sign onto an amicus brief in the Supreme Court backing a Texas lawsuit that challenged Biden’s election. His election denialism is something to worry about if the next electoral count is close.
Emmer’s sins, in Trump’s eyes, included his vote to certify Biden’s election after the Trump-inspired Capitol riot of Jan. 6, 2021, his subsequent criticism of Trump’s role in it, his indisposition to defend Trump against his four indictments and his hedging on whether to endorse Trump in the 2024 GOP primaries.
Emmer’s nomination was a golden opportunity for House Republicans to declare their independence from Trump. Instead, they blew it and prostrated themselves to him again.
Johnson became the last person standing in the political equivalent of a demolition derby. He won by being the least objectionable Republican option. One plus is that the uber-nasty Jim Jordan paid the price for having offended many colleagues.
But Johnson is, if anything, more extreme. Rolling Stone describes him as a “hardcore Christian nationalist” who has linked mass shootings — like those in Maine Wednesday — to abortion and the teaching of evolution.
The magazine cited this Johnson quote from a 2016 sermon at the Christian Center in Shreveport, La.: “People say, ‘How can a young person go into their schoolhouse and open fire on their classmates?’ Because we’ve taught a whole generation — a couple generations now — of Americans, that there’s no right or wrong, that it’s about survival of the fittest, and [that] you evolve from the primordial slime. Why is that life of any sacred value? Because there’s nobody sacred to whom it’s owed. None of this should surprise us.”
In an interview in 2015, a year before his election to Congress, Johnson asserted that “When you break up the nuclear family, when you tell a generation of people that life has no value, no meaning, that it’s expendable, then you do wind up with school shooters.”
As a lawyer, he represented the Alliance Defending Freedom, which the Southern Poverty Law Center calls a hate group. He’s also a prominent climate-change skeptic.
For now, the nation must hope that Johnson was sincere when he told the House that his job is “to serve the whole body, and I will.” He talks constructively of a continuing budget resolution — like the one he recently voted against — to avoid a government shutdown that’s looming in less than three weeks. His proposal for a bipartisan commission on the national debt could be very good if properly constructed.
©2023 Orlando Sentinel. Visit at orlandosentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.