Mike Johnson Is The Least Vetted Speaker In Modern History

INSIDE: Fani Willis ... Donald Trump ... Jared Golden
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 26: Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., makes a statement in the U.S. Capitol on the mass shooting in Lewiston, Me., on Thursday, October 26, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
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Roll The Tape

It’s been a veritable field day for oppo researchers and investigative journos: An inexperienced backbencher who’s never faced a serious election challenge is suddenly second in line to the presidency. Let the belated vetting finally begin.

Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) hasn’t been hiding in the shadows. He’s been out there, generating video and audio clips for years, hosting a podcast, and generally creating a public digital trail that’s easy to follow, such as this from a few years ago:

Most of the coverage emphasis is on how far to the right Johnson is, and that’s a fair place to focus. But I’m more interested in my nerdy way in how Johnson can possibly lead his fractured caucus without any of the usual assets that a speaker brings to the table. The things that got Johnson elected – he didn’t have a lot of baggage compared to other candidates and he hadn’t irredeemably pissed off multiple factions within the House GOP conference – don’t equate to strengths as a speaker.

Johnson hasn’t secured the loyalty of members by helping get them elected. He hasn’t earned chits from prodigious fundraising. He doesn’t have a power base within the conference from having chaired a committee. In short, Johnson doesn’t have a reserve of the currency that speakers use to deal, to keep members in line, to soften differences, and to reach accommodations.

It’s going to be a helluva thing to watch him try to keep a conference full of show ponies and burn-it-all-down types in line and on task.

Meanwhile, here’s what we’re learning about the accidental Speaker Johnson:

Mike Johnson, Christian Nationalist

  • Politico: The Christian Nationalist Ideas That Drive Mike Johnson
  • Mother Jones: Mike Johnson’s Long Flirtation With Christian Nationalism
  • Sarah Posner: Mike Johnson’s Christian nationalist track record isn’t a mystery — it’s a tragedy
  • David Corn: Mike Johnson Hates America, But He Believes He Can Save It

Mike Johnson, Inexperienced

  • Axios: Mike Johnson is the least experienced House speaker in 140 years
  • Former House GOP aide Brendan Buck: The Terrifying Learning Curve Facing Mike Johnson
  • Susan Glasser: Speaker Who?: The Rise of a G.O.P. Nobody in Trump’s House

Mike Johnson, Lackluster Fundraiser

  • Punchbowl: “He’s raised just $553,000 this year. Compare that to the $16 million former Speaker Kevin McCarthy raised in the third quarter alone.”
  • Politico: “Since he was elected in 2016, he has never raised more than $1.4 million for his campaign over any two-year election cycle. In 2022, he ranked 276th among all House incumbents who sought reelection in terms of total fundraising, according to FEC data, and in the bottom half among Republican members as well.”
  • Punchbowl: “The NRCC has raised $70 million this cycle. Out of that, a whopping $18.5 million has come from transfers from McCarthy’s political committees.”

WATCH: Mike Johnson With Sean Hannity

Aaron Rupar, the master of the unspooling these interviews into relevant clips, has the essential thread here:

The Aftermath Of Jan. 6

A nicely juxtaposed piece from my former colleague Ryan Reilly: On Wednesday, a Capitol Police officer testified about the injuries she sustained on Jan. 6 while across the street election denier Mike Johnson was elevated to speaker of the House.

Fani Willis Is Wheelin’ and Plea Dealin’

Atlanta DA Fani Willis has offered plea deals to at least six other defendants in her sprawling RICO case against former President Trump, CNN reports. It breaks down like this:

  • Former Trump campaign official Mike Roman and former Coffee County elections supervisor Misty Hampton has been in contact with Willis about a plea deal.
  • Pro-Trump lawyer Robert Cheeley turned down a plea offer some time ago, said his lawyer, who indicated that plea talks were not ongoing.
  • Three other co-defendants whom CNN did not name have also discussed plea deals with Willis.

Donald Trump’s Weak Hand

I want to be very careful about how I say this, but taken together Donald Trump’s defenses in his various criminal cases have, on balance, been weaker, less developed, more forced, and less compelling that I expected.

Recent filings in his Jan. 6 case – including one that seeks to turn it into a fight over classified information and another that reiterates his claims of absolute presidential immunity – were the latest examples of arguments that I expected to pack a punch but fell short.

It’s important to remember a criminal defendant may throw a lot of things against the wall. Only one may need to stick. So I’m not predicting Trump loses every case on the facts, or that he won’t win any pre-trial legal disputes. But I keep waiting for a muscular, logical, historically grounded, bulletproof argument from him that will seriously threaten either of Jack Smith’s two cases against him or Fani Willis’ case in Georgia. And I haven’t seen it yet.

Instead, the arguments we are seeing are very Trumpian: bombastic, over the top, not targeted at the judges but at a public audience – and in some instances the only audience seems to be Trump himself. With these arguments, Trump’s lawyers are drawing down any credibility or benefit of the doubt they may have with the judges in these cases.

Again, I don’t want to overstate this. But I keep waiting for his legal team to bring the real heat, and it’s been remarkably tepid so far.

Jared Golden Now Favors Assault Weapons Ban

In the aftermath of the deadly shooting rampage in Maine, with the suspect still at large, Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME) reverses himself and comes out in favor of an assault weapons ban:

George Santos Faces Looming Expulsion Vote

New York Republican members have introduced an expulsion resolution aimed at Rep. George Santos (R-NY) that could come to a vote as soon as next week. Meanwhile, Santos is expected to plead not guilty today to new charges contained in a superseding indictment

Another Potential Dem Pickup Opportunity

Federal judge strikes down Georgia’s redistricting map for illegally discriminating against Black voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

I’m sure it’s just a coincidence and not part of a larger, persistent historical pattern that since the 2020 census Republicans in Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida have been found by federal judges to have used their redistricting powers to discriminate against Black voters.

2024 Ephemera

  • WSJ: Biden Administration Tries to Soften Blowback From Muslim Leaders in U.S.
  • Politico: Blake Masters announces House bid in Arizona, forgoing another run for Senate
  • NYT: Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) will attempt a challenge of President Biden in the 2024 Democratic primary.
  • WaPo: Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) announces he will retire from the House at the end of his term.

Scientists Watching Their Life’s Work Disappear

A well-executed piece on seven scientists whose work puts them on the frontlines of climate change.

*Chef’s Kiss*

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