Analysis: Who Is Mike Johnson — and why does he hate women, LGBTQ+ people and science?

U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) addresses the U.S. House of Representatives on Oct. 25, 2023, for the first time as its speaker. (Screenshot/C-SPAN)

It took more than three weeks and many attempts, but the Republican Party finally elected a new Speaker of the House, Louisiana representative Mike Johnson. The three-term former attorney for far-right causes has the least political and executive experience of any Speaker in a century. But he checked all the far-right boxes for the increasingly more extremist GOP while also being a “nice” guy, so elected he was. 

Rogue Freedom Caucus member Matt Gaetz, whose personal beef with Kevin McCarthy got McCarthy ousted as Speaker after only 10 months, said of Johnson, “If you don’t think that moving from Kevin McCarthy to MAGA Mike Johnson shows the ascendance of this movement and where the power in the Republican Party truly lies, then you’re not paying attention.”

Paying attention is critical in this looming election year. Unlike Jim Jordan, who failed to get the votes prior to Johnson, the new speaker is well-liked by both Republicans and Democrats. But Johnson’s niceness is deceptive. The congressman even Republicans had never heard of outside the House or the solidly Republican part of north and western Louisiana he’s represented since 2017 has moved steadily through the GOP ranks. Johnson chaired the conservative Republican Study Committee and was House Republican Conference vice chair. He sits on the Judiciary Committee (and chairs a subcommittee on the Constitution), the Armed Services Committee and the newly created select committee on “Weaponization of the Federal Government,” which is what the current GOP is doing in its impeachment inquiry into President Biden.

Here are the basics. Mike Johnson is an election denier. He cannot state for the record that Joe Biden won the 2020 election. While that should be disqualifying, it’s not. Worse still is that Johnson led the legal effort to toss out millions of votes for Biden, starting with Pennsylvania’s. The New York Times called Johnson “the most important architect of the Electoral College objections,” which may be why Donald Trump says Johnson will be a “fantastic” speaker.

Johnson also voted against establishing the bipartisan January 6 Commission, represented Trump in the impeachment hearings on his defense team and led efforts to have Trump’s impeachments expunged.

According to Johnson, mass shootings are a result of the cultural revolution of the 1960s. He blames the rise of mass shootings on “no-fault” divorces becoming legal, legalized abortion and schools embracing the teaching of evolution.

And while the nation was still focused on the mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, the NRA put out a new ad featuring Johnson. In the ad, Johnson says he opposes background checks and waiting periods to purchase firearms, safeguards nearly 80% of Americans support.

Like most Republicans, Johnson is a staunch anti-abortion rights extremist who’s supported nationwide bans. Johnson has an “A+” rating from Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. Johnson worked as a senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund (now known as the Alliance Defending Freedom), for which he fought to shut down an abortion clinic in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Alliance Defense fund also supports anti-LGBTQ+ lawsuits. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the Alliance Defense Fund as a hate group.

After Roe was overturned, Johnson tweeted this message for abortion providers in Louisiana: “Perform an abortion and get imprisoned at hard labor for 1-10 yrs & fined $10K-$100K.” Johnson also worked for a “crisis pregnancy” center, Imagine Life Ministries, that used a mobile van to target “abortion-vulnerable women” and persuade them not to terminate their pregnancies, according to tax returns filed with the Internal Revenue Service. Johnson was the bookkeeper for that crisis pregnancy center from 2016 through 2021, IRS forms show.

Corinne Day, communications director for Johnson, told Business Insider Johnson has not been involved since 2016 and he only worked with the organization in 2016, before announcing his candidacy. Imagine Life did not respond to PGN’s request for comment.

As Business Insider reported, “Crisis pregnancy centers often appear to offer abortions to draw pregnant people in, but then use high-pressure tactics to shame patients into forgoing an abortion or spread medical misinformation about the procedure.”

Johnson’s history on LGBTQ issues is equally bad and dates back decades. As Business Insider noted, “New House speaker Mike Johnson knocks Biden’s ‘cognitive decline’ but can’t remember all the times he attacked LGBTQ relationships.”

Johnson voted against bipartisan legislation to codify same-sex marriage in the Respect for Marriage Act, which Biden signed into law last year.

Johnson has also co-sponsored legislation by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, (R-GA), called the Protect Children’s Innocence Act, which would make it a crime to provide gender-affirming care to people under 18 years of age.

Johnson introduced a national “Don’t Say Gay” bill last October, predicated on Florida GOP  Gov. Ron DeSantis’s notorious “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Calling the bill “commonsense,” Johnson said in a statement, “The Democrat Party and their cultural allies are on a misguided crusade to immerse young children in sexual imagery and radical gender ideology.”

The bill, called the “Stop the Sexualization of Children Act,” is meant to “prohibit the use of Federal funds to develop, implement, facilitate, or fund any sexually-oriented program, event, or literature for children under the age of 10, and for other purposes.”

As is often true of these bills, the language in the proposed law conflates sexual orientation and gender identity with sexual content such as pornography and stripping.

The bill would prohibit federal funds from being used to support any “sexually-oriented” programs, events, and literature for children under 10; ban federal facilities from hosting or promoting such events or literature including drag queen story hours; and allow parents and guardians to sue government officials, agencies and private entities if a child under 10 is “exposed” to such materials. It’s broad as it is vague, and no one is teaching kids about pornography and stripping.

In August, Johnson spoke during the GOP-led House hearing on “The Dangers and Due Process Violations of ‘Gender-Affirming Care’ for Children.” Calling gender-affirming care “barbarism,” Johnson asserted, “This is the mutilation of children and it should be prohibited by our law.” Johnson often conflated sexual orientation and gender identity saying, “The reach of radical sexual identity politics isn’t limited to young children alone.”

He continued, “We see this extended to young adults, especially at the university level now. The modern left applauds men competing in women’s college athletics. We see universities captured by academics advancing this ideology on students across our country.”

Johnson alleged a veritable conspiracy in academia to transify and gay-up students, asserting, “Whether it’s by scalpel or by social coercion from teachers, professors, administrators and left-wing media, it’s an aggressive attempt to transition the young people of our country. They’re doing this psychologically, and now they’re doing it even physically. Something has gone terribly wrong.”

Johnson’s far-right activist past began with his support for conversion therapy in the 2000s. Johnson gave legal representation to the notorious ex-gay movement organization Exodus International and partnered with the group to put on an annual antigay event aimed at teens, according to a CNN KFile review, of more than a dozen of Johnson’s media appearances from that timespan.

While working as an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, Johnson collaborated with Exodus International from 2006 to 2010. Exodus International shut down in 2013. But Johnson hasn’t left the conversion therapy business: his wife Kelly currently runs a counseling business that advocates the belief that homosexuality is comparable to bestiality and incest, according to its operating agreement, Onward Christian Counseling Services is a Bible-based pastoral counseling agency. The website — since scrubbed — cites socially conservative beliefs about LGBTQ+ people and reproductive rights and referred to homosexuality as being “sinful and offensive to God.”

“We believe and the Bible teaches that any form of sexual immorality, such as adultery, fornication, homosexuality, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, pornography or any attempt to change one’s sex, or disagreement with one’s biological sex, is sinful and offensive to God,” reads a section of the document.

Complicating this part of Johnson’s history is the revelation that while a single man, Johnson took in a Black teen only a decade younger than he and who he later raised with wife, Kelly. Johnson told the New York Times he never formally adopted Michael because of the “lengthy adoption process.”

Questions continue to surround this “adoption” and “Saturday Night Live” featured “Mike Johnson’s Adult Black Son” in the cold open of its Oct. 28 episode.

Johnson is also a climate science denialist, despite living in a state that has been ravaged by climate crisis events. Among the least controversial of Johnson’s actions is that he has led a group of far-right House Republicans calling for cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. And he voted against the PACT Act, legislation that provides treatment for millions of veterans — like Biden’s late son Beau, who died of brain cancer — who were exposed to toxic burn pits. Johnson also voted for a 22% cut to the Veterans Administration.

In Biden’s first two years, Johnson voted against a slew of bipartisan bills — including one to establish a Jan. 6 independent commission, the infrastructure law, reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, a modest new gun law and the CHIPS and Science Act.

Last month, Johnson was among 93 Republicans who voted for an amendment by Gaetz to cut off U.S. military assistance for Ukraine. He also voted against the recent stop-gap bill to avoid a government shutdown that was brokered by McCarthy and led to McCarthy’s ouster.

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