Mike Johnson helped lead efforts to overturn the 2020 election. What that could mean for 2024
Johnson led over 100 GOP lawmakers in backing a lawsuit challenging the results.
Newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson is drawing fresh scrutiny for having played a key -- if somewhat lower-profile -- role in trying to overturn President Joe Biden's 2020 election victory.
House Republicans unanimously chose him this week despite his record as an election denier, something some GOP lawmakers previously had said would be disqualifying.
Back in 2020, Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, had argued Biden's win was bogus because some states officials had changed voting procedures during the coronavirus pandemic without legislatures' approval.
He appeared to pressure 125 House Republicans to join him in filing a brief to the Supreme Court supporting a Texas lawsuit to overturn Biden's wins in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
He told them Donald Trump was watching.
He touted his conversations with then-president, who was fighting tooth and nail to hold onto the Oval Office after Biden beat him by about seven million votes and 74 votes in the Electoral College.
"I have just called President Trump to say this: 'Stay strong and keep fighting, sir! The nation is depending upon your resolve. We must exhaust every available legal remedy to restore Americans' trust in the fairness of our election system,'" Johnson posted on X -- then known as Twitter -- on Nov. 7, 2020, days after the election.
"President Trump called me last night and I was encouraged to hear his continued resolve to ensure that every LEGAL vote gets properly counted and that all instances of fraud and illegality are investigated and prosecuted. Fair elections are worth fighting for!" Johnson added in a Nov. 9, 2020, post.
Johnson's acceptance speech Wednesday in the House chamber touched both on the need for bipartisanship and several conservative talking points on immigration, the debt and more. And while he made no mention of the 2020 election -- or how he'd handle next year's presidential race -- a review of his comments and actions at the time reveals a lawmaker overshadowed by more vocal election opponents but nonetheless someone who played a major role in trying to keep Trump in power.
"Based on what I know, I do think it is accurate to treat him as the equivalent of some of the others in Congress who played as much of a leadership role, like Ted Cruz tried to play on the Senate side," said Edward Foley, an election law expert at Ohio State University, referencing the Texas Republican who loudly advocated for an invalidation of the 2020 election results.
The amicus brief that Johnson rallied his GOP colleagues behind was tied to a lawsuit from Texas that was ultimately thrown out for a lack of standing, but the Louisianan continued to advocate for reasons that Trump should remain in office, at times veering into the conspiratorial.
Among other things, Johnson raised the unfounded theory that voting machines from Dominion were "rigged" and had ties to Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, who was dead, echoing conspiracy theories floated by Trump supporters such as Sidney Powell, a former Trump lawyer who ultimately pleaded guilty to state charges in Georgia over her efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.
"I don't concede anything," he declared on Nov. 17, 2020, on a Louisiana radio show.
Democrats have highlighted Johnson's dedication to overturning the 2020 election as a sign he's out of step with the American mainstream.
"Johnson would be the most extreme speaker of the House in history. Republicans nationwide will have to answer for his extreme MAGA track record of election denialism, abortion extremism, and bold-faced partisanship in 2024," Democratic National Committee Executive Director Sam Cornale wrote in a Wednesday memo.
But Johnson's push around the 2020 election seems not to have been a hinderance -- but rather a GOP argument for -- his bid to become speaker.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., said that the House speaker must reflect "the values of Republican voters that can lead our conference" after voting against Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., for speaker, in part over his vote "to certify Biden's 2020 election."
And Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., who shot down speaker bids from Reps. Steve Scalise, R-La., and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, over their refusal to definitively say Biden won the 2020 race, said Johnson was appropriate to bring his concerns to the courts.
"What [Johnson] did was he went to the courts. That's what the courts are set up for. And it's absolutely appropriate," Buck said Wednesday. "It's fundamentally different than somebody who is actively involved in moving the protesters from the Mall up here, actively involved in arguing with the White House counsel's office about how we could decertify the election, two completely different things."
It's unclear how Johnson would act if Biden were to defeat Trump again in 2024 even if he were still speaker, though new guardrails exist after the passage of the Electoral Count Reform Act, which, provided more structure to Congress certification of future Electoral College results.
"That's a really good reform, and really clarifies and pins down exactly what is supposed to happen in Congress with respect to the counting of electoral votes. And as long as that was followed as it should be, the process will go smoothly, and it wouldn't really matter who's speaker or which party is in control of either chamber," Foley said.
The Electoral College Act more clearly defines the role of the the vice president in presiding over the congressional joint session in counting of electoral votes.
However, Johnson as speaker would have significant power over the House floor and could have some avenues to push for Trump in the event of a 2024 defeat -- avenues Foley said were unlikely.
"But there's some risk, I suppose, some small risk, that the House could say, 'we don't love this new law, and here's a different procedure that we want to follow and we're gonna follow in the House, at least in terms of our role in the process.' That puts the country in a crisis situation two weeks before Inauguration Day. And if they're doing that because they really want to try to change the outcome of who's the winner, it's very dangerous," he said.
Johnson could also try to run out the clock and not convene the House floor to certify the Electoral College before inauguration, another scenario Foley cast as possible but improbable.
"The one thing that we know under the 20th Amendment is the current terms of office of the president and the vice president end at noon on January 20. That's a given. And if there has not been, for whatever reason, a resolution of who won the 2024 presidential election, the 20th amendment spells out what happens. And what happens is Congress has the right to pass a statute to designate who gets to serve as acting president," Foley said.
Johnson's handling of the 2024 is purely hypothetical, and he may not even be speaker on Jan. 6, 2025, when the House will convene to certify the 2024 Electoral College results. For him to maintain the gavel, Republicans would have to keep the House next year and again choose Johnson to lead them.
On Wednesday, when Biden was asked, "If you win reelection in 2024, are you worried that a Speaker Johnson would, again, attempt to overturn the election?" he shot back, "No."
"Why not?" the reporter asked.
"Because they can't -- well look -- look, just like I was not worried that the last guy would overturn the election," Biden said. "They have about 60 lawsuits all the way to the Supreme Court, and every time they lost. I understand the Constitution."
For now, Republicans appear eager to avoid election denial questions.
When ABC News' Rachel Scott on Tuesday asked Johnson whether he stood by his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, she she was booed by Johnson's fellow GOP lawmakers gathered around him.
"Shut up," said Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C. "Shut up."