With his poll numbers sinking and an election year looming, President Biden is struggling to push an unpopular agenda through a divided Congress at a time of grave danger at home and abroad. Clearly, he has the most challenging job in Washington, D.C.
However, in a nation fond of lists that rank items ranging from colleges and cars to best places to live, a follow-up question arises: If Biden has the most challenging job in Washington, whose job ranks second?
Could it be Karine Jean-Pierre? She was a presidential election denier in 2016. Now she’s the White House press secretary with the unenviable task of trying to make sense of Biden’s remarks when he meanders off the script.
This is an especially challenging job in this era when ubiquitous cameras and mics not only capture virtually every word politicians utter, but also catch slip-ups such Biden stumbling or Donald Trump telling a Sioux City, Iowa, crowd that he was glad to be there in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Being able to clarify a president’s remarks is also important. An inadvertent misstatement could lead to an international crisis. So quickly clarifying what Biden really meant is an important and challenging facet of Jean-Pierre’s job. Could there possibly be a Washington, D.C., job that’s even more challenging than hers? Maybe.
Because Jean-Pierre seems to have iron-clad job security despite her numerous gaffes, there’s another job that’s arguably Washington, D.C.’s second most challenging because it has absolutely no job security.
Indeed, it’s a job where one of the biggest day-to-day challenges is holding onto a job that’s already replete with daunting challenges: speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Ask Kevin McCarthy. He held the job but lost it when a handful of his fellow Republicans turned against him, leaving the House without a Speaker and unable to function for three weeks.
Several candidates tried and failed to amass enough support to become House speaker. The next-to-last one to try — Minnesota’s Rep. Tom Emmer — came close but withdrew when Donald Trump’s objection caused a hard-core MAGA faction to oppose him. Trump complained that Emmer voted to certify the election that the former president and his mob tried to overturn.
Finally, as House Republicans began to realize that their inability to get on with governing was imperiling their chance to expand their slim majority in 2024, the job of speaker fell to Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson.
He is a 2020 election denier. As Emmer’s fate illustrates, neither Johnson nor anyone else could have become speaker unless siding with Trump regarding the election outcome.
Johnson’s elevation naturally led the media to pore over his sparse legislative record and his previous campaign rhetoric. They quickly discovered that he’s extremely conservative on social issues — especially those of concern to the LGBTQ+ community.
He’s strongly opposed to abortion and is critical of the Biden administration’s failure to deal effectively with the immigration crisis at the southern border. He also wants to slash federal spending, and is skeptical of continuing aid to Ukraine.
The media also discovered that Johnson has often spoken about his faith. He has declared that he believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible, which he regards as historically accurate — including its account Noah and the flood.
In fact, Johnson secured federal funding for Ark Encounter, a Kentucky theme park featuring a replica of Noah’s Ark. He has also aligned himself with the Ark Encounter’s supporters, who claim that humans and dinosaurs co-existed in the biblical Eden and, thus, shared space on the Ark.
When reports of the new speaker’s religious beliefs circulated, the entertainment media were quick to pounce. Monday, for instance, Stephen Colbert spent most of his opening monologue making fun of Johnson’s religious beliefs.
The monologue — and a fake movie trailer for “Jurassic Ark” — elicited lots of laughs from Colbert’s New York audience. However, in the vast area that the sophisticates in Manhattan and Hollywood derisively refer to as the “flyover zone,” there may well be thousands of people who share Johnson’s beliefs.
Johnson’s critics may feel that satirically ridiculing those beliefs provides a fair warning to the public. It can also be argued that because he has been so open about his faith, he has made himself a target.
On the other hand, if the critics’ target had been believers of a different religious faith — whether Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Mormon, Amish, etc. — they might have been criticized for “hate speech” and/or for anti-this-or-that bias.
In short, there seems to be a double standard and it could be harmful if this kind of ridicule undermines Johnson’s ability to do the job. The nation needs the House to function. For the House to function, for now at least, it needs Johnson to preside.
The new speaker’s political positions are fair game for discussion and criticism. However, unless he attempts to impose his religious views on the nation as a whole, critics ought to leave his faith alone.