After three weeks without a House Speaker, the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously elected Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, to the lead the chamber. Speaker Johnson immediately confronts the certainty that the federal government will shut down on Nov. 17 unless he can negotiate a deal between his deeply divided Republican caucus, the White House and U.S. Senate.
But because so little was known about the new speaker when he was elected on Oct. 25, investigative reporters in recent days have revealed a long list of disturbing facts about Mike Johnson’s leading role in Donald Trump’s failed coup attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election and a long history of extreme religious right activism.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Jennifer Bendery, senior politics reporter with Huffington Post. Here she talks about the important issues examined in her recent article, “New Speaker Mike Johnson’s Long History with the Religious Right,” where she details Johnson’s former job as senior attorney and national spokesperson for the extremist religious group Alliance Defending Freedom, dedicated to dismantling LGBTQ+ rights and freedoms, as well as outlawing abortion.
JENNIFER BENDERY: The thing to know about Mike Johnson is that he is a Louisiana Republican who, for eight years prior to Congress, worked as the senior attorney and the national spokesperson for a group called Alliance Defending Freedom, which is a Christian nationalist group that is essentially part of the religious right, that is very focused on rolling back abortion rights and LGBTQ rights.
If you dig into his past, you can find a number of lawsuits that Mike Johnson has helped to lead because he is a constitutional attorney by training. But he has used his legal background to try to essentially roll back LGBTQ rights and eliminate abortion rights. So there’s a whole bunch to dig into there. What I think is particularly fascinating, though, is the fact that most people in Congress don’t know much about him and this is his background.
So as a reporter, I can say that many people have been spending the last week or so truly digging into his background, but next to nobody knows much about. And the more that is revealed about him shows that he is in fact, particularly extreme even for this current Republican party when it comes to things like abortion rights and LGBTQ rights.
SCOTT HARRIS: There’s another aspect to Johnson’s background that we should discuss even briefly, and that is Mike Johnson was one of Donald Trump’s biggest allies in the House, and he had a central role in organizing support to overturn the 2020 presidential election, taking it away from Joe Biden the legitimate winner and giving it to Donald Trump. That’s pretty disturbing. We’re going to be talking about a lot of disturbing things about his background tonight.
But I wondered if you just touch on that because that that seems central in terms of U.S. politics today and the divide between the country where I think it’s safe to say a strong majority believes the 2020 presidential election wasn’t stolen, but was indeed the target of an attempted steal by coup plotters like Donald Trump and his inner circle, as well as it appears, Mike Johnson.
JENNIFER BENDERY: Yes. If we want to talk about the 2020 presidential election, it is absolutely crucial to understand that Mike Johnson, of everybody in Congress, he was the architect of House Republicans’ argument that Donald Trump won the election or that at least it should be evaluated, that the election was stolen from him. It is objectively fair to argue that Mike Johnson used his legal background as a way to justify his argument that the election was stolen from Donald Trump, which it was not.
He basically leaned on every aspect of the law he could to try to argue that widespread voter fraud should be examined. In fact, there’s no proof that there was any and every Republican that decided to vote to throw out the results of the 2020 presidential election looked to Mike Johnson to make their argument because, again, he is a constitutional attorney who leaned on his legal background to make this claim.
So that alone is incredibly problematic in understanding who the new House speaker is. Never mind his long history as an attorney associated with the religious right.
SCOTT HARRIS: Review for our audience some of the more disturbing lawsuits that Mike Johnson undertook when he was associated with the Alliance for Defending Freedom.
JENNIFER BENDERY: It is key to remember that Mike Johnson, who for eight years he was the senior attorney for a group called Alliance Defending Freedom — it’s fair to categorize as a Christian nationalist group. He defended a number of lawsuits on behalf of the religious right, specifically relating to LGBTQ rights and abortion rights. In 2004, he represented the organization in defending Louisiana’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
He went to federal court on this one and successfully defended it again in 2004 before the Supreme Court declared marriage equality the law of the land. That is one case. The bottom line is that he has dedicated his professional life to convincing people that LGBTQ people don’t deserve any legal protections and that abortion itself should be entirely illegal.
Mike Johnson is a person who has dedicated his life as an attorney to eliminating abortion. This is someone who, even within the current Republican party, is actually more extreme than we’ve seen among Republicans who have supported rolling back some abortion rights or some LGBTQ rights. He is way out there on the extreme calling for eliminating all of it.
Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with Jennifer Bendery (17:14) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.
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