October 26, 2023

A New House Speaker: Who Is Michael Johnson?

Holland & Knight Alert
Joe O'Brien | Kathryn Hazeem Lehman


  • Mike Johnson (R-La.) was elected Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives on Oct. 25, 2023, by a vote of 220-209, with all Republicans voting in his favor.
  • Johnson, the 56th Speaker of the House, is now tasked with guiding the chamber as a critical government funding deadline approaches on Nov. 17, 2023.
  • This Holland & Knight alert offers a glimpse into Johnson's policy background and experience, as well as his vision in his new position.

Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) was elected Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives on Oct. 25, 2023, by a vote of 220-209, with all Republicans voting in his favor. Johnson, the 56th Speaker of the House, is now tasked with guiding the chamber as a critical government funding deadline approaches on Nov. 17, 2023. House Republicans spent the past weeks attempting to elect a speaker after eight members of the GOP conference removed Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Oct. 3, 2023.

Speaker Johnson was first elected to the House in 2016. He has been the vice chair of the House Republican Conference since 2021, and before being elected speaker, was the deputy whip for the 118th Congress. He previously chaired the conservative Republican Study Committee. In the 118th Congress, he was on the Select Committee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, the House Committee on Armed Services and the House Committee on the Judiciary as chair of the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Limited Government.

While staying relatively lesser-known during his time in Congress, Johnson will receive significant new constitutionally granted responsibilities: Most notably, he is now second in the line of succession to the presidency. With Democrats controlling the White House and Senate, he will face challenges in leading his chamber during a time of divided government.

Johnson's Vision

Johnson is a close ally of former President Donald Trump and supported many of his legislative priorities, including the American Health Care Act of 2017 and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). Following the 2020 election, Johnson objected to certifying the results from Arizona and Pennsylvania and led 126 House Republicans in signing an amicus brief in contesting the 2020 election results.

In his pitch to his conference, Johnson outlined a comprehensive schedule to pass the 12 appropriations bills, pass the farm bill and begin conference negotiations with the Senate on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). He voted against the Oct. 1, 2023, stopgap bill but has proposed a short-term funding bill through Jan. 15, 2024, or April 15, 2024, to meet the Nov. 17, 2023, funding deadline, depending on whichever proposal wins the support of the GOP conference.

During his first speech to lawmakers as speaker, Johnson announced his intention to establish a bipartisan commission on the national debt and focus on the southern border. As a staunch conservative, Johnson has supported minimal government spending and limited intervention in the private sector. Johnson was one of many House Republicans who voted against the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). These policy positions include supporting free trade deals, an issue in which the speaker differs from former President Trump.

Policy Background

Serving on the Judiciary Committee and Armed Services Committee, Johnson has remained out of the spotlight, joining his Republican colleagues in many legislative efforts. In the 118th Congress, Johnson introduced legislation to further secure U.S. borders and is a critic of the Biden Administration's border policies. Despite supporting the state of Israel's military needs, Johnson has advocated against sending additional funding to Ukraine for its war effort. The speaker has also voiced skepticism about climate change and has close ties with the U.S. energy sector.

As a man of faith, Johnson is outspoken on his views toward abortion rights. Johnson has introduced legislation restricting minors' ability to seek an abortion in the 116th, 117th and 118th Congresses. In addition, Johnson is a co-sponsor of legislation banning abortions ranging from six to 20 weeks. As a member of the Armed Services Committee, he has supported several NDAA amendments that restrict service members' ability to receive reproductive care. Johnson has come out in support of state efforts to ban abortion, including a restrictive law in his home state of Louisiana.

Before serving in Congress, Johnson served as a constitutional lawyer and remained involved in civil liberties issues through his position on the Judiciary Committee. Johnson has introduced several bills addressing the judicial branch and civil liberties to the committee. Most recently, he introduced legislation that would penalize employees or officers of the U.S. Supreme Court who knowingly divulge sensitive information related to the court's business.

Looking Ahead

Despite the historically lengthy and contentious internal battle for the speakership, the unanimous vote for Johnson is a positive sign Republicans are ready to put this negative chapter in the rearview mirror and get back to work. Johnson will face several tests, as he will lead his chamber's response to a relatively unified Senate and a White House adamant on additional funding for its domestic and international priorities. The newly united Republican Conference will cut the speaker some slack, but eventually, if he fails to deliver on conservative policy priorities, he could find himself in the same position as his predecessor.

Holland & Knight remains engaged with the House Republican Conference and the Speaker's Office. Our bipartisan team's strong relationships with both parties ensures that we can assist our clients with needs on both sides of the aisle.

Information contained in this alert is for the general education and knowledge of our readers. It is not designed to be, and should not be used as, the sole source of information when analyzing and resolving a legal problem, and it should not be substituted for legal advice, which relies on a specific factual analysis. Moreover, the laws of each jurisdiction are different and are constantly changing. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. If you have specific questions regarding a particular fact situation, we urge you to consult the authors of this publication, your Holland & Knight representative or other competent legal counsel.

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