House Republicans finally have their speaker, after unanimously voting to elect Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La. to the top job Wednesday afternoon. Democrats, meanwhile, may have a new favorite target.
Few voters have heard of Johnson — even a veteran Republican senator said she was Googling his record — and Democrats are hoping they can define him early on their terms. They’re already combing through his votes, interviews, statements, and speeches from when he was a relatively little-known figure easily lost in the shuffle.
“Mike Johnson has a very pleasant demeanor, in terms of how he communicates, but his voting record is as extreme as the most extreme members of their conference, with very few exceptions,” Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries at an event hosted by the Center for American Progress on Wednesday.
Since 2020, Democrats have focused their attacks on Republicans on three major fronts: Abortion bans, efforts to undermine elections, and threats to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. They sound confident that Johnson’s own personal blend of MAGA, social, and fiscal conservatism will be helpful for running the same playbook next year — much as they argued Rep. Jim Jordan would provide easy attack-ad fodder.
He has, one Democratic aide texted, “all of the extremism of Jordan with none of the name recognition.” Another described him as the “same menu, different waiter.” The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee blasted out a statement calling him “Jim Jordan in a sports coat.”
At the CAP event, Jeffries cited Johnson’s vote against certifying the 2020 election, calling him a “top election denier.” (House Republicans shouted down a question on the topic at his introductory press conference Tuesday night). A New York Times report last year described him as “the most important architect of the Electoral College objections’' behind the scenes in the House. In public, Johnson called Georgia’s elections “rigged” and entertained some of Trump’s wildest conspiracies about foreign plots — including claims that Dominion software changed votes that have triggered defamation suits by the company, one of which Fox News settled this year for $787 million.
“[T]he allegations about these voting machines, some of them being rigged with this software by Dominion, look, there is a lot of merit to that,” Johnson said in a 2020 interview he posted to his own social media account. “And when the president says the election was rigged, that’s what he’s talking about. The fix was in.”
Johnson’s stance on the election stands out in part because the GOP’s previous speaker nominee, Majority Whip Rep. Tom Emmer, did vote to certify the 2020 results, and saw his bid collapse in part due to opposition from Donald Trump. Democrats were happy to see Trump immediately claim credit for putting Johnson over the line — and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. dub him “MAGA” Mike.
On social issues, Democrats point to Johnson’s support for national abortion restrictions — including a federal heartbeat bill — and vehement opposition to Roe v. Wade. The Biden campaign and other Democratic accounts have circulated a hearing clip in which he argued that banning the procedure would have helped Medicare and Social Security’s finances by ensuring the country had more “able-bodied workers.” He’s also a longtime opponent of gay marriage, who as a lawyer for the Christian legal group now known as the Alliance Defending Freedom called homosexuality “sinful” and “destructive.” This year, he introduced a national version of Florida’s law limiting the discussion of sexuality in schools, which critics have described as a “don’t say gay” law.
Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., suggested that Johnson’s selection could give Democrats a boost in his state’s upcoming elections. “My read of Virginia for election after election, it’s been always very pro-women’s reproductive rights. Even Glenn Youngkin was talking about 15 weeks rather than banning abortion,” he said. “So having the national speaker be for a total abortion ban will be able to help Democrats make the abortion message.”
On entitlements, Johnson was once — like prior speaker nominees Steve Scalise and Jim Jordan — a leader of the Republican Study Committee, the conservative group whose proposed budgets often featured changes and cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Most recently, Democrats highlighted the RSC’s proposal this year to gradually raise the retirement age to 69 for future Social Security recipients.
The View From The House Floor
Democrats spent parts of Wednesday’s speaker vote previewing how they would attack Johnson’s conservative record — and poking at Republicans from Biden districts who might have to answer for it. In his speech nominating Hakeem Jeffries for speaker, House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Auilar emphasized Johnson’s role crafting election objections, and said the GOP speaker race was an effort to “appease” Trump. When Rep. Mike Lawler, a moderate Republican from a New York swing-district, stood to vote for Johnson, Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y. yelled, “Bye bye.” (She later described Johnson as “a disaster” to Semafor.)
Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., pointedly yelled, “Happy wedding anniversary to my wife,” before voting for Jeffries.
The View From A Republican Moderate
Moderate Republicans aren’t worrying yet that Johnson’s record could be an anchor on the party — at least publicly. “Johnson has a Reagan-like vision and is a man of strong character,” Rep. Don Bacon, the high-profile centrist from Nebraska, told Semafor.
- Democrats will have a lot of archival material on Johnson to work with, thanks to a podcast Johnson records with his wife, with titles such as “The Truth about January 6th that You’ve Never Been Told.” There are currently 69 episodes.
— Joseph Zeballos-Roig and Dave Weigel contributed reporting