U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson shoots blanks in GOP’s culture war

March 27, 2023 1:07 pm
Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, sits during the House Judiciary Committee's markup of Articles of Impeachment against President Donald Trump

In this file photo from December 2019, Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, sits during the House Judiciary Committee’s markup of Articles of Impeachment against President Donald Trump at the Longworth House Office Building in Washington, D.C. (Jonathan Newton-Pool/Getty Images)

The first meeting of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Limited Government was held last week, and it was pretty much what we’ve come to expect from the Republican-led chamber: An exercise in self-indulgence.

Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, presided over Thursday’s hearing that looked into whether a memo from the U.S. Department of Justice two years ago had a “chilling” effect on parental participation at local school board meetings. 

Right away, you can figure out this was a pointless subcommittee meeting because we know the mainstream GOP long ago declared parents under siege. It’s yet another polarizing tactic Republicans have used to kindle fear among members of a key voting bloc with hopes that it ignites into full-flaming outrage — and eventually votes come election time. 

In an Oct. 4, 2021 memo, Attorney General Merrick Garland instructed federal law enforcement to “open dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting, assessment and response” for possible criminal threats local school board members received over hot-button issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The memo came days after the National School Boards Association reached out to the Biden administration to request a federal response to increasing tension at local meetings. The association has since apologized and walked back its request. Its crawfish maneuver came after Republican members of Congress chided the White House for what it considered government overreach.

But was it, though?

Fact checkers have confirmed several times over that federal authorities have not been involved with policing local school board meetings. It’s actually illegal for them to do so.  

The “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence” against local school boards Merrick referenced in his memo was very real, so much so that meetings across the country were canceled rather than risk the safety of board members and the public. 

In some instances, the flames were stoked by outside conservative groups who usurped public comment periods to the point of drowning out local voices. Johnson and his peers conveniently ignore this suppression of First Amendment rights. Instead, the people they see as under attack are those who take far-right stances on matters such as transgender rights, critical race theory and diversity.

“That (First Amendment) right has been significantly stifled over the past few years because the leftists have decided they apparently know better than parents do,” Johnson said in his opening statement at Thursday’s hearing.

“​​That is an outrage and the American people are rising up to say that they will no longer tolerate it as the radical leftists push this woke agenda on America’s children.”

The lack of tolerance from the right has been clear, as it often takes the form of bilious rhetoric and outright discrimination.

That Johnson would provide a soapbox for such expression is true to form for House Republican leadership, yet no one should suggest they not have that platform taken away from them. Even egregiously erroneous speech is free speech.

It’s just a shame the far-right GOP doesn’t recognize it for the hypocrisy that it is.


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Greg LaRose
Greg LaRose

Greg LaRose has covered news for more than 30 years in Louisiana. Before coming to the Louisiana Illuminator, he was the chief investigative reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans. He previously led the government and politics team for The Times-Picayune |, and was editor in chief at New Orleans CityBusiness. Greg's other career stops include Tiger Rag, South Baton Rouge Journal, the Covington News Banner, Louisiana Radio Network and multiple radio stations.