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Last month, Congress was thrown into shambles when the Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, was ousted from office. Steve Scalise, Jim Jordan, and Tom Emmer all tried (and failed) to become Speaker. Finally, this past week, Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson was voted in.
This month without a speaker put the Republican Party’s dysfunction on stage for the world to see. The chaos seems to be over for now, but how long will this last? Do we have reason to believe Johnson will be much different from McCarthy?
It wasn’t easy to get McCarthy installed, to begin with. It took fifteen ballots last January to get him installed as Speaker. A messy Speaker election like McCarthy’s had only occurred once since the Civil War.
Is history repeating itself?
It’s worth noting that, in the decades leading up to the Civil War, there were numerous messy appointments to the Speaker of the House, and in many cases, the drama revolved around abolitionists who refused to play politics. The election of Nathaniel Banks in 1855 was the longest in history, requiring 133 ballots and taking over two months.
In fact, during this time, tensions were running so high over the Speaker election in American politics that a pro-slavery Representative, Albert Rust, physically assaulted one of Banks’ supporters with a cane. This was a year before the more famous caning of Charles Sumner by two South Carolina representatives in the Senate Chamber in 1856.
I suppose we should be happy that our politicians aren’t whacking each other with their canes and walkers. But that day may come.
The Fall of McCarthy
McCarthy had never been very popular despite his adeptness at fundraising. For the 2021-2022 election cycle, according to Open Secrets, he was the House member who raised the most money. Approximately 38% of his contributions came from small donors and 36% came from large donors. But 24% came from “Other,” which may be part of the reason so many conservatives view him as a swamp creature.
His final ouster came about as a result of his compromising with Democrats to avoid a government shutdown.
Government shutdowns are bad. People rely on the federal government.
But the out-of-control spending needs to be addressed. The Federal Reserve started printing like mad during COVID-19, and since then, it’s just been one crisis after another. It’s not unreasonable to think of the federal government as a junkie and politicians like McCarthy as enabling family members who keep trying to patch things over rather than admit the seriousness of the problem.
The battle to be Speaker
After McCarthy’s ouster, Rep. Steve Scalise from Louisiana hoped to be the next Speaker. In 2017, Scalise was shot when a gunman opened fire on Republicans practicing for an annual charity baseball game. Like McCarthy, Scalise is an innovative fundraiser.
Looking at Open Secrets data on Steve Scalise, you can see that most of his money in the 2021-2022 election cycle, 79%, came from the “Other” category. He had relatively small amounts of large or small individual donations.
So what does “Other” mean, anyway?
Well, in Scalise’s case, it might have been Bill Gates. Campaign finance information dating back to 2016 shows him accepting money from Bill Gates. In more recent years, he has accepted money from anti-Trump billionaire Paul Singer.
But money didn’t help him get elected Speaker of the House. Steve Scalise exited the race when it became clear he wasn’t going to get the required votes.
After Scalise, Rep. Jim Jordan from Ohio attempted to become Speaker. Jim Jordan is an interesting character; unlike McCarthy and Scalise, he took very little money from large, unspecified groups in his 2021-2022 campaign. Open Secrets reports that 58% of his donations came from small (under $200) individual donations; 37% came from large individual donations. Businesses may not love him, but considering that he managed to raise the 8th most funds in that election cycle, obviously, his constituents do.
While the mainstream press regularly refers to Jordan as a pro-Trump, MAGA extremist, the alternative press has shown a different side. When Jim Jordan found out that IRS agents had been sent to longtime Democrat Matt Taibbi’s home as he testified to Congress about the Twitter Files, his office demanded accountability from the IRS, as Taibbi discusses here.
Furthermore, he headed the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government to prevent these kinds of intimidation tactics from happening in the future.
Jim Jordan looks like one of those rare politicians who actually believes he is there to serve the American public. The First Amendment does not have a lot of ardent defenders these days, but Jim Jordan seems to be one of them. This probably explains why so many individuals are willing to support him when the typical political donors are not.
This lack of support from the professional political class showed itself when, after three ballots, it became clear that Jordan was never going to get enough votes, and he had to call it quit s.
After Jordan’s failed bid, Rep. Tom Emmer from Minnesota was nominated to run for Speaker but dropped out in less than a day.
Finally, Mike Johnson from Louisiana was nominated and was able to win enough votes to become the newest Speaker of the House.
Mike Johnson is no fundraising champ. In the 2021-2022 election cycle, he raised less than a tenth of what McCarthy did. In his early fifties, Johnson was one of Congress’ younger members, which may have helped him. He was first elected to Congress in December 2016, and perhaps he simply hasn’t been around long enough to piss off important people.
That will change soon, no matter what happens.
What does Johnson believe in?
As soon as he was announced Speaker, typical mainstream outlets went on the attack. MSNBC called him a “Christian nationalist” who wants to end abortion rights and gay marriage. The Guardian regards his beliefs as an “Election denier, climate skeptic, anti-abortion.”
None of this is surprising, though it’s worth at least taking a look at Johnson’s actual stances. I’m not particularly socially conservative myself. I don’t believe in legislating morality.
And while Mike Johnson has definitely come out very strongly against homosexual relationships, his firmest anti-gay statements are more than fifteen years old. Yes, he has called homosexuality sinful and destructive. So did plenty of other people twenty years ago.
Powerful Republican-turned-Democrat Bill Kristol has made a massive about-face on social issues. In the 90s, Kristol hosted a conference at Georgetown on curing the homosexual impulse. Despite this, the Democrats seem to have totally forgiven Kristol.
I don’t really agree with Johnson on his hardline social stances, but at the same time, I’m not willing to judge him based solely on statements from fifteen or twenty years ago. I am more interested in what he wants to do now.
The only big cultural issue Johnson has sponsored recently was the “Stop the Sexualization of Children Act,” which would bar any institution receiving federal funds from exposing children under the age of ten to sexual material. Critics say this will prevent school children from learning about sexual orientation. Supporters (like myself, and most other parents I know) think kids under the age of ten don’t need to learn about sexual orientation anyway. I didn’t know the difference between demi-sexual and pansexual as an 8-year-old. Somehow, I made it through childhood.
In a recent interview with Sean Hannity, Johnson said that while his beliefs on cultural issues have not changed in twenty years, his political priorities have. He sees the problem with the national debt and the international situation as far more pressing these days.
During his interview with Hannity, Johnson gave the typical neocon talking points regarding our international relations. We have to be involved in Ukraine and Israel, because if we project weakness, then China will be encouraged to attack Taiwan. We’ve all heard it before.
Johnson spent a lot of time hearkening back to Reagan, seeming to think that if the US simply carries itself a certain way, our enemies will collapse, like the Soviet Union in the late 80s.
But the US in the 80s was a different country. We didn’t have the debt we do now. We still had a lot of manufacturing. We were the world’s most important trading partner.
We can’t project strength that doesn’t exist. The world watched our humiliating flight from Afghanistan. The US has domestic problems that seriously need to be addressed, starting with regaining control of our own borders. Our border chaos hardly makes us look invincible.
Johnson does, at least, seem to understand that the American people are not infinitely wealthy and cannot sponsor everything for everyone all around the world. His first bill, proposed Monday, would send Israel $14.3 billion in aid while deducting that same amount of money from the funds Biden proposed to give the IRS through his Inflation Reduction Act.
Johnson’s paying attention to the math. And he’s forcing some difficult conversations.
“Politicizing national security is a nonstarter,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre after the announcement of Johnson’s bill.
Why not? The taxpayer foots the bill for the security state. Maybe the security state should be politicized so that the American public can have meaningful effects on policy through their votes. The non-politicized, unelected Uniparty making all the decisions regarding national security does not have to answer to voters and only serves itself.
We’ll see how Johnson holds up as Speaker. I like the way he thinks about finances, but this could all change. J.D. Vance already noted that, while Johnson voted to cut off funding for Ukraine in the past since becoming Speaker, his stance on that has already softened.
Will Mike Johnson change things?
I would love to think that getting the right people in power politically could change everything, but that’s highly unlikely at this point. There are simply too many high-stress scenarios worldwide, and no diplomatic solutions have presented themselves.
Daisy wrote the other day about preparing for war. This is worth a read for everyone because I think that, before too long, this will be a reality, no matter who is in office.
What do you think of Mike Johnson? Like or dislike? Do you have any information to add about him? Let’s discuss it in the comments section.
About Marie Hawthorne
A lover of novels and cultivator of superb apple pie recipes, Marie spends her free time writing about the world around her.