Climate Politics: The View from Washington (27th Oct.)

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Original appeared at Civil Notion

Climate Politics: The View from Washington (27th Oct.)

Joel Stronberg, Esq.
By Joel Stronberg, Esq. and 10/27/23

Well, Republicans in the US House of Representatives finally did it. They elected Mike Johnson (R-LA) to succeed Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as speaker of the lower chamber. It took them just over three weeks to do the deed—during which time the work of Congress came to a virtual standstill. Johnson is now second in line to succeed President Biden should he or Vice President Harris become unable to fulfill their duties.

So, what does Johnson’s elevation to the speaker’s chair mean for US climate policy? It doesn’t bode particularly well. Although hardly worse than what McCarthy meant for clean energy and the environment. Before going into specifics, a bit of background on Johnson is in order.

Image of US House of Representatives courtesy of Wikipedia.

Speaker, Johnson is a MAGA Republican who has the blessing of ex-President Trump. Johnson wasn’t the first pick of the Republican House conference. In fact, he wasn’t the second, third, or fourth pick of the group. Those honors were given to Representatives Steve Scalise (R-LA), Jim Jordan (R-OH), and Tom Emmer (R-MN), respectively.

Of the group of unchosen, Emmer enjoyed the shortest candidacy—lasting only four hours before it became known that the ex-president and the ultra-right wingers in the House said they wouldn’t support him. Emmer is considered a moderate. If that wasn’t bad enough, he had the audacity—nay, the affrontery—of claiming that Joe Biden was freely and fairly elected president of these here United States of America.

On the other hand, Johnson captained an effort by House Republicans to file a brief supporting Texas’ last-ditch attempt to have the results of the 2020 election tossed because of irregularities. The man from Louisiana has gone so far as to state that “the allegations about some of them [voting machines] being rigged with the software by Dominion” had a lot of merit. It was alleged by Trump and the Pillow King, Mike Lindell, that the machines could move Trump’s votes over to Biden. Repeating these lies cost Fox News nearly $800 billion, and Tucker Carlson his job.

The Associated Press has reported that the new speaker “echoed some of the wilder conspiracy theories pushed by former President Donald Trump to explain away his loss.” Notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s dismissal of suits questioning the outcome of the 2020 election, Johnson voted against “certifying Biden’s win even after the [January 6th] attack on the Capitol.”

Speaker Johnson is an evangelical Christian and the former chair of the ultra-conservative Republican Study Committee. He’s a staunch opponent of abortion and favors a national law to that effect. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, Johnson has said that “Roe v. Wade gave constitutional cover to the elective killing of unborn children in America.” 

In the same breadth, Johnson spoke of the problematic economic impacts of abortions.

Think about the implications of that on the economy. We’re all struggling here to cover the bases of Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid and all the rest. If we had all those able-bodied workers in the economy, we wouldn’t be going upside down and toppling over like this.

Johnson strongly supports Louisiana’s near-total ban on abortions and fining or jailing of doctors who perform the procedure.

Speaker Johnson has also introduced a federal version of Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law and opposes same-sex marriage. According to ABC, prior to his election to Congress, “he spent years building his career and profile by denouncing gay people and fighting against gay rights, which he staunchly opposes, citing his Christian faith and views on liberty.” In his own words, the new speaker believes “homosexual marriage is the dark harbinger of chaos and sexual anarchy that could doom even the strongest republic.”

Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, has referenced Speaker Johnson’s history of opposition to abortion rights. In advance of his election by the House, she had indicated that:

House Republicans, including those claiming to be moderates, know exactly what they are doing by electing him as speaker: they are fully embracing extremism and a plan to ban abortion nationwide.

The anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List gives Johnson an ‘A+’ rating. He also has a 100 percent rating from the legislative arm of the Christian-conservative group Family Research Council has done work for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

According to ADF’s website, the organization is “a leading Christian law firm committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, marriage and family, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.” The Southern Poverty Law Center has a different opinion. It classifies ADF as a hate group.

Johnson has no recognizable record of working across the aisle or even across legislative chambers. Most senators—Republican or Democrat—seem unable to speak from experience about Johnson. His lack of notoriety is considered a strength. Whereas high profilers like Jim Jordan act as Democratic lightning rods, Johnson’s relative obscurity makes him less subject to partisan attacks.

Being a Louisianan, it’s hardly surprising that Johnson is pro-fossil fuels. His support has earned him a 100 percent rating from the American Energy Alliance—a group advocating on behalf of fossil fuels. It’s also unsurprising that the League of Conservation Voters, a leading climate advocacy organization, gives Johnson only a 2 percent lifetime rating. It places him lower than all but 24 of the 435 current House members, all of whom are Republican.

Johnson seems not to believe that human activity is the primary driver of climate change. However, he has recognized that changes are happening. Like the ex-president and much of the GOP, he lays the blame for the well-documented changes at the feet of Nature herself.

The new speaker “has consistently voted against dozens of climate bills and amendments, opposing legislation requiring companies to disclose their risks from climate change and bills that would reduce leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas wells.” Johnson also supports funding cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Johnson has called the Green New Deal “A Greedy New Steal” and “a thinly veiled attempt to implement the policies that would usher in a new socialist society in America.” The president of Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions, a Republican-focused organization that supports renewables, expects the new speaker to try and repeal the Inflation Reduction Act.

According to the New York Times’ Lisa Friedman, “Steven J. Milloy, a prominent climate denialist, called Mr. Johnson ‘a quantum leap improvement’ over Mr. McCarthy.” Milloy is likely basing his claim on the document “Commitment to America.”

Inspired by Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America,” the plan was commissioned by McCarthy after the relatively poor showing of the GOP in the 2022 midterm elections—which resulted in the currently razor-thin five-vote Republican House majority. The Commitment includes references to encouraging domestic development of renewables alongside fossil fuels and planting one trillion trees to better absorb carbon in the atmosphere.”

Although hardly a climate champion, McCarthy has somewhat consistently expressed concern that the GOP is risking the loss of younger voters because of its nearly wholesale refusal to combat climate change—or even to recognize it as a political threat to their majority status. If Milloy is right, then US climate policy will be under attack in a Johnson regime.

Although Johnson’s relatively thin congressional record makes him harder to lay a Democratic glove on, the Democrats have come out swinging. Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD) has jested that Johnson is an “insurrectionist esquire,” based on the comments the speaker made following the January 6th seditious Capitol assault.

Other Democrats have warned that Johnson’s polite manner doesn’t override his loyalty to Trump and the far-right wing of the GOP. Pete Aguilar (D-CA) argues that the speaker gives House members like Jordan, Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), and Lauren Boebert (R-CA) a “safe place” in which to operate. Indeed, many early press pictures showed Johnson surrounded by these and other MAGA representatives.

Matt Gaetz (R-GA,) the congressman who started it all with his motion to vacate the chair that brought McCarthy down, speaks more eloquently of the situation than ever I could. In a Real Voices of America podcast with Steve Bannon, Gaetz said:

If you don’t think that moving from Kevin McCarthy to MAGA Mike Johnson shows the ascendance of this movement and where the power in the Republican Party truly lies, then you’re not paying attention.

And that’s it for today’s Climate Politics.

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