What do we think of the new Speaker of the House?
After more than a week, we are still building an impression of the new House speaker, Rep. Mike Johnson. Moderates like me, and others to my left, will not find much common ground with the Republican from northwest Louisiana on issues.
Nonetheless, I don’t want Johnson to fail. I want him to change. And there are hints that some of his Jurassic-age views may evolve.
But one early move is truly distressing. He’s tied emergency aid for Israel to defunding the IRS. Pushing more of the tax burden onto the middle class by making it easier for the rich to cheat is itself cracked. But compromising national security toward that end leaves us breathless.
Under Donald Trump, Johnson obediently helped run up the national debt by almost $7.8 trillion. Now, in a seeming parody of right-wing priorities, he’s slowing down money desperately needed for fighting terrorism to help billionaires dodge taxes.
On the plus side, however, is an apparent reconsideration of earlier harsh views on gay marriage. In 2004, Johnson wrote: “Experts project that homosexual marriage is the dark harbinger of chaos and sexual anarchy that could doom even the strongest Republic.”
But Sean Hannity recently asked him about such statements, noting that same-sex marriage is no longer very controversial, even among many Republicans.
“I don’t even remember some of them,” Johnson responded, “I genuinely love all people, regardless of their lifestyle choices. This is not about the people themselves.”
On the very bad side is his election denialism. Johnson actually wrote legal briefs to justify throwing out the voting results in several swing states. He even supported the conspiracy theory that Venezuela tampered with the nation’s voting machines. That is lunacy on Pillow Guy level.
There are two explanations for this troubling history. One is that Johnson robotically followed the call of Donald Trump, who remains highly popular in his district. A man who embraces high moral values, though, would not participate in such a blatant lie, especially one that endangered the democracy.
The other explanation is that he believed that hooey. Let us pray that the man who is second in line for the presidency is more intellectually sound than that.
On becoming speaker, however, Johnson seemed to back off. When a reporter asked about his efforts to undermine the 2020 election results, Johnson refused to answer, and his colleagues yelled at the journalist to shut up. This implies that fewer Republicans regard election denialism as politically helpful.
Granted, the expectation that your House speaker would not engage in a coup d’etat against his elected government would seem a low bar. These are not ordinary times, though, and America desperately needs a functioning Congress.
Another plus for Johnson is that he seems to lack the sort of toxic personality that has personified many hard-right politicians. That New Look is welcome.
Johnson has also spoken of wanting to engage with the other side of the aisle, AKA Democrats. This used to be a non-exceptional thing for a newly minted House speaker to say, but many in the Republican caucus would rather holler than govern.
It’s unsettling that Republicans and Democrats can’t find common ground on important issues. It’s downright scary when Republicans can’t compromise with other Republicans — and measure one another based on their servitude to Trump.
Johnson’s acknowledgment that his white son “has an easier path” than the Black teen he raised was on point. It was also brave: A right-wing Trump ally denounced him for that, accusing Johnson of being an “undercover Democrat.”
Come Election Day 2024, the American people will have the opportunity to pass judgment on a Johnson-led House. And they will.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website at www.creators.com.