SPEAKING WITH THE SPEAKER: KSLA sits down with new speaker of the House, Mike Johnson
WASHINGTON, D.C. (KSLA) - As soon as U.S. Congressman Mike Johnson received the nomination for speaker of the House, the KSLA team boarded a jet to D.C. By the time they landed, the Shreveport-Bossier attorney turned lawmaker had been chosen as the next speaker of the House, making him the first-ever speaker from the state. KSLA’s team was the first in the country to talk one-on-one with Johnson, a strong ally of Donald Trump who has been a quiet force among Republicans.
CHILDHOOD & EARLY LIFE
Mike Johnson, a kid from west Shreveport, who at one time had his sights set on being the Shreveport fire chief, had dreams of following in his dad’s footsteps.
A Shreveport firefighter, Pat Johnson nearly died in the 1984 Dixie Cold Storage Company fire. Mike was just 12-years-old when he lost his father; he calls it a defining moment in his life.
“But after dad got burned, he was burned 80 percent of his body, third-degree burns, and nearly died, he had a long road back. We lost another firefighter in that fire, Capt. Percy Johnson,” Speaker Johnson said.
As the year of 1984 came to a close, people were still talking about the heroic actions of the two firefighters. Three months after the fatal fire, Shreveport was still mourning the loss of Capt. Johnson.
Mike Johnson, the oldest of four children, says losing his father changed the trajectory of his life. Johnson graduated from Captain Shreve High School and became an LSU Tiger.
“I ended up being the first college graduate in my family and went to LSU because that is what all kids do in Louisiana. That’s all we knew,” Johnson said.
For those who don’t know, Speaker Johnson says his heart is still in northwest Louisiana.
“I am still the kid from Shreveport in my heart and will never forget that. It is the values that we are raised on in Louisiana that made me who I am and I am really proud of that,” he said.
BEGINNINGS OF HIS POLITICAL CAREER & 2020 ELECTION
Before he served in Congress, the 51-year-old constitutional attorney was a representative in the state House. In 2016, he was elected to represent Louisiana’s 4th Congressional District. His rise in politics has been slow, but steady. After former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, Republican Mike Johnson voted to not certify the election. The constitutional lawyer took the lead in filing a brief, alongside more than 100 House Republicans supporting a Texas lawsuit aimed at overturning the 2020 election results in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
KSLA’s Domonique Benn: Initially when he [President Joe Biden] was first in and was elected, you voted to not certify those votes. Has that changed?
Speaker Mike Johnson: There are two things that can be true at the same time. A lot of people are trying to misconstrue this and say I am an election denier. What I was saying during that election in 2020, during COVID, everything was in great upheaval and so a lot of states began to change their election laws. Many other ways it was done, but the key question: was it done constitutionally? And in many of those states, the changes they that made in by COVID was the excuse were never ratified by their state legislature. Article 2 Section 1, the state legislative body is the only body that can set the rules to do that. It is a plain argument, but the Supreme Court kind of dodged that, but the facts... still the facts, but the states that did that, 147 of my colleagues and I said if there is a constitutional infirmary in the way the electors were chosen. It is the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine. The fruit can’t be right if the tree itself is unconstitutional and everyone knows how it resolved and Joe Biden is the president now, but that election involved an unprecedented level of differences and problems under the constitution.
Domonique Benn: Did you envision three weeks ago that you would be speaker of the House?
Speaker Mike Johnson: This is still surreal, in fact, are we dreaming right now? I am not sure if this is really happening. Look, I came to serve the people of Louisiana’s 4th District. I have tried to come in here from the first day and work hard and not be a show pony and get the job done. We have big challenges in this country. We are in a serious time now, the Republican conferences. We had to have a candidate.
OPPOSITION TO SPEAKER JOHNSON
When Johnson was chosen as speaker, fellow Louisiana lawmaker, Sen. Bill Cassidy, congratulated him.
“So congratulations Speaker Johnson and to his wife, Kelly, their four wonderful children. With that I yield,” he said.
But not everyone in Louisiana feels his representation reaches far and wide. Former Shreveport city councilman and Morningstar Baptist Church pastor, Dr. Theron Jackson, says there is a segment the population he represents that feels ignored.
Domonique Benn: Do you think the speaker, when he was a congressman, represented everyone in this district?
Dr. Theron Jackson: No, I think the speaker, if he was honest, he did not represent everyone. Elections these days have become I, me, ours vs. me and they. A lot of times they are cultural. Draw a line in the sand, and I think what I have seen is the speaker allows you to deny elections results, so not much of the public policy is about humanity in general, but about politics.
The country was crippled without a speaker of the House when Kevin McCarthy was ousted by his own party. Republicans nominated Steve Scalise, another politician from Louisiana, Jim Jordan, and Tom Emmer before the kid from Shreveport rose to the top, and Republicans unanimously put him in.
“I am grateful that our colleagues entrusted this to me. It is not a job I aspired to or ever dreamed of having,” Speaker Johnson said.
Immediately, Congressman Mike Johnson became Speaker Johnson, and addressed his Republican colleagues in front of the nation.
Speaker Johnson went to work in a highly televised House work session, working to get allocations passed to prevent the country from going broke, passing a resolution for Israel, and meeting with the prime minister. But quietly, teachers in Louisiana are paying attention, zeroing in on Johnson’s support of policies to reform Social Security.
“We have a thing called unfair,” said Jackie Lansdale, president of Red River United.
The teachers union was banking on then Congressman Mike Johnson to end the Social Security Reform Act of 1983.
“Mike told everyone here that he signed legislation to end that. Now, right here in our parish, instead, his reform is to look at cost of living and cut those and up the age of... that is 180 away from what teachers thought he was going to do. What do they say? They feel they have not... Mike, I know that you are a man of integrity. Live up to it,” Lansdale said.
“He represents this district that has a hodge-podge that seems to dilute his hometown. It’s a job about making America do what she is supposed to do for her citizens. What we have now is echo chambers and golden boys and girls for the party they represent. All of the people in this district, you would expect to be represented as well,” said Dr. Jackson.
CHRISTIAN VALUES & LGBTQ+ AND ABORTION RIGHTS
Mike Johnson says his Christian values are the foundation for his life.
Domonique Benn: I couldn’t help but see the Bible on your desk.
Speaker Mike Johnson: Yeah, that one is pretty well worn and someone said one time, I was at a Promise Keepers event in Superdome in 1996 and someone said a Bible falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t and that has been the way I’ve lived my life, and so it is hard for me to not talk about things in spiritual terms and I shared some of that in the House chamber the other night. I am not sure how everybody received it and that is who I am so...
He says his core biblical values are the driving force behind his beliefs and the way he votes. He has been an opponent to LGBTQ+ rights and abortion rights.
“I have fought hard on all of the core principles we believe in, but I have never hated anybody on the other side,” said Speaker Johnson.
Before becoming a U.S. congressman, as a state lawmaker, Johnson proposed a controversial bill in 2015 called the Marriage and Conscience Act. Some saw it as discriminatory to the LGBTQ+ community.
Domonique Benn: Where do you stand on LGBTQ and abortion rights? I think it is clear, but a lot of people are concerned.
Speaker Mike Johnson: Well they shouldn’t be concerned. If you want to know where Mike Johnson stands, get a copy of the Bible and read it. I am a Bible-believing Christian and the Bible is clear about these matters and the Bible is clear about loving your enemies. We are supposed to love our enemies. I do. You will not find anyone in my 50 years of life that will tell you that I hated them or said something about them because of their sexual orientation or anything else. I treat everybody the same, but I can have deep social issues and advocate those issues.
“I believe in the sanctity of human life. Why? Because I believe God creates each person because we are made in God’s image and that is what frames the constitution and what I believe. We fight vigorously for the sanctity of life because every life matters,” Johnson went on to say.
“By the way, your value is not related in any way to the color of your skin or the zip code you live in or what orientation you have or anything. Your values are inherent and that is a very important message and I don’t think there is anything controversial about that at all,” Johnson continued.
ATTEMPTS TO OVERTURN THE 2020 ELECTION
As a U.S. congressman, Mike Johnson led efforts to overturn the 2020 election. In his sit-down interview with KSLA’s Domonique Benn, he talks about why he did it and where he stands on Joe Biden as the president of the United States.
Before he was elected as speaker of the House, Johnson had several conversations with former President Donald Trump.
Domonique Benn: Have you spoken to former President Donald Trump?
Speaker Mike Johnson: I did talk to him. I have spoken to him a few times since. I also spoke to President Biden. We respect the office, the individual who holds the office no matter who they are, even if our policies are different. You’re to give honor where honor is due. You give them respect and that is what I will do.
Domonique Benn: Will you be able to reach across the aisle?
Speaker Mike Johnson: Yes, it has already happened. We love each other and respect each other. We are not enemies in this chamber. Our enemies are like ISIS and Hamas. Right, we are fellow Americans. We are elected, each of us, almost one million people to come here and serve together and work out our differences in policy, but treat one another with respect. We got to get back to that and I am trying to change the atmosphere here.
There are six congressmen who are a part of the Louisiana delegation: five Republicans and one Democrat. Johnson says him becoming speak of the House will be good for the entire State of Louisiana.
“One of the first people to run across the floor was Troy Carter, our Democrat colleague. We are united in this and it is a great thing for our district, certainly, and the whole State of Louisiana,” Speaker Johnson said.
Bossier City is home to the iconic B-52s at Barksdale Air Force Base. In July, the bipartisan National Defense Authorization Act was passed on the House floor. The legislation includes funding for major priorities for the Louisiana defense community, particularly Barksdale Air Force Base, Air Force Global Strike Command, Fort Johnson (formerly known as Fort Polk), and the Joint Readiness Training Center.
Since being appointed to the House Armed Services Committee in 2021, Johnson has secured:
- Nearly $620 million in military construction projects for the State of Louisiana
- $321.5 million for Barksdale Air Force Base
- $261.8 million for Fort Johnson
- $13.8 million for Camp Minden
- $2.3 billion for the Air Force B-52 program
- $1.82 billion for the Long Range Stand Off Weapon program
“I have Barksdale Air Force Base, Global Strike Command. I have Fort Polk, now Fort Johnson. All of those priorities will now always be top of mind. By virtue of me running the House, I will not use it in any way unfair or not right. Clearly that is a big priority, so it doesn’t hurt our state,” Speaker Johnson said.
That same bill guts the Biden administration’s politicization of the military by:
- Rolling back the administration’s unlawful abortion travel policy
- Prohibiting TRICARE and the DOD (Department of Defense) from covering and furnishing sex reassignment surgeries and gender hormone treatments for transgender individuals
- Prohibiting funds from being used for the teaching of CRT (critical race theory)
- Prohibiting funds for any advisory committee dealing with race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or social justice
- Providing a pathway back to the armed forces for servicemembers who refused to take the COVID vaccine
“I am never going to use this position untoward or unethical, but obviously, the the influence of the speaker is a big thing in terms of priorities,” Johnson said.
OTHER LAWMAKERS WEIGH IN
Not everyone is celebrating Mike Johnson becoming speaker of the House though. Other lawmakers in the country have expressed concern, and raised questions about past statements Johnson has made that they believe could stand in the way of bipartisanship.
House Republicans unanimously voted to make Johnson speaker of the House, but not one Democrat voted for him. However, with important legislation coming up in the House that will take bipartisan support to pass, can Speaker Johnson reach across the aisle, or will his past stand in his way?
“I have great concerns about his past statements, his words, and actions. The bottom line is to be speaker, you have to be speaker for all people. He will have to step up and be a leader for all of this country or if he will be a part of extremism, that is a part of his past actions and past words,” said Rep. Jill Tokuda, D-Hawaii.
“I am concerned as we move forward, as I look at the speaker’s record of not being supportive of the things the American citizens need and that I support and my caucus supports,” said Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C.
As Johnson was moving up the ladder to gain the votes of his party for the speaker of the House position, most senators, including many Republicans did not know him. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine went public saying she would have to google him. Congressman Nathaniel Moran represents the 1st District of Texas, a district that includes east Texas. He knew exactly who he was putting up for the job, and calls Johnson a friend.
“We spent a full day together talking about chambers and even going to see Barksdale Air Force Base. Same people and same principles. We just have a state line between us,” Moran said.
“We call LA ‘lower Arkansas.’ You can’t tell much difference. Mike represents constituents much like mine. The more people will get to know him, they will love him and see the quality person he is,” said Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark.
Domonique Benn: The Republican party has been split for some time. Are you the guy to bring it back together?
Speaker Mike Johnson: I hope so, but I mean, this genuinely, this is about the whole body. We are at a critical time in our nation’s history, not unlike the crisis that they faced in the Civil War era and time they faced in the world wars. ‘In God We Trust,’ and I noted that in my speech right now. We have to seek God’s guidance. That is not a platitude or a talking point right now, and I am telling my colleagues and I am optimistic we can and God is going to help us get out of this.
“Everybody knew immediately he was the man for this mission for this time. I am so excited to have Speaker Johnson at the helm,” Rep. Moran said.
“For him to be successful in passing meaningful legislation, he will need Democrats at his side,” Rep. Tokuda said.
“I don’t know if he has a whole lot of experience. This will be OJT, but I hope if he got unanimous support, they will be supportive and help them through this,” said Rep. Adams.
Mike Johnson returned to Louisiana for the first time since becoming House speaker during the first weekend of November to celebrate the engagement of his daughter, Hannah, to her fiancé, Cody.
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