Mike Johnson’s religion-heavy speech falls flat: ‘I’m not at church’

Republicans bemoan House speaker’s ‘sermon’ at presentation on how to maintain congressional majority

Joe Sommerlad
Thursday 22 February 2024 18:37 GMT
Related: Seth Meyers speculates House speaker Mike Johnson might be AI ‘based on his name and face’

House speaker Mike Johnson reportedly raised eyebrows at a weekend retreat for Republican lawmakers when a presentation he was delivering on maintaining the party’s slim majority in the lower chamber of Congress mutated into an unwelcome religious “sermon”.

The Louisiana representative, known to be a devout Southern Baptist, was addressing his party’s Elected Leadership Committee at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Miami, Florida, when his slideshow about the GOP’s prospects of clinging onto their two-seat advantage in the House of Representatives took an evangelical turn, according to several people in attendance who spoke to Politico on the condition of anonymity.

Mr Johnson is understood to have exasperated colleagues by veering off on a tangent about dwindling church membership in the United States, suggesting that citizens often look to the government for leadership when their spiritual needs are not being met and advised his fellow Republicans that they should seek to capitalise on that desire for direction and guidance.

One source cited by Politico suggested his inspirational message had fallen flat in the room and that the presentation had been “horrible”.

“I’m not at church,” the attendee complained. “I think what he was trying to do, but failed on the execution of it, was try to bring us together.

“The sermon was so long he couldn’t bring it back to make the point.”

Another source said Mr Johnson had devoted around a third of his talk to historical and religious themes and otherwise discussed recent polling around the issue of illegal immigration at the US-Mexico border, policy differences between Joe Biden and Donald Trump and party messaging.

The Independent has reached out to Speaker Johnson’s office for further comment about the meeting.

With the House on a two-week vacation, Mr Johnson also used the Florida getaway to drop in on Mr Trump at his Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach on President’s Day, a gesture that did nothing to dispel persistent insinuations that the speaker’s conduct on Capitol Hill is being dictated by the man who looks all but certain to become the Republican Party’s presidential candidate once again.

The pair “discussed growing the majority and securing Republican victories up and down the ballot in November”, a spokesperson told Fox News, after what was at least Mr Johnson’s second trip to the former president’s club since his surprise elevation to the speakership last October.

Mr Johnson has endured a rocky start to his tenure in the top chair, struggling, like his predecessor Kevin McCarthy before him, to strike a balance between the more moderate wing of his party and the hard-line MAGA contingent embodied by Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, whose uncompromising positions frequently make life difficult for the GOP leadership during bipartisan negotiations.

House Republicans have faced huge criticism in recent weeks for taking their vacation without voting on a $95bn foreign aid bill that was passed by the Senate and for pursuing impeachment inquiries into President Biden and homeland security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas that have been widely dismissed as baseless and without merit.

Even Speaker Johnson himself appeared to acknowledge that the House impeachment of Secretary Mayorkas over the state of the southern border, which is unlikely to advance in the Senate, was “desperate” when he justified the strategy by observing: “Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

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