December 1, 2023

When Mike Johnson, the brand new Home speaker, talks about race in America, he usually attracts a placing private connection, telling the story of how he and his spouse, Kelly, “took custody” of a Black teenager 24 years in the past and raised him as a son.

“I’ve walked with him by means of discrimination that he has needed to endure through the years and the hurdles he typically confronted,” he advised a Home committee in 2019, whereas testifying in opposition to reparations for slavery. “I do know all this as a result of I used to be with him.”

When Mr. Johnson was named Home speaker this week, his relationship together with his son, like a lot of Mr. Johnson’s private and political life, confronted new scrutiny. There isn’t any point out of the person, who’s now an grownup, elevating his family in California, in Mr. Johnson’s official biography. And he doesn’t seem within the household pictures posted on the congressman’s web site. Mr. Johnson has 4 organic kids: two daughters and two sons.

On Friday, Mr. Johnson sought to elucidate the absence, saying it was in deference to his son Michael’s request for privateness.

“On the time of the speaker’s election to Congress, Michael was an grownup with a household of his personal,” Corinne Day, the speaker’s communications director, stated in a press release first reported by Newsweek. “He requested to not be concerned of their new public life. The speaker has revered that sentiment all through his profession and maintains a detailed relationship with Michael to this present day.”

The eye now being paid to Mr. Johnson — in addition to to Michael — displays the brand new world he has entered together with his abrupt transfer to a place that places him second within the line of succession to the presidency. Earlier than this week, Mr. Johnson was an obscure southern Republican, with little identified about his background past his dwelling state; the story of Michael, who was 14 when he joined the Johnson household, was even much less identified.

In his public remarks through the years, Mr. Johnson describes Michael as his son and didn’t right an interviewer who described Michael as “adopted.” Ms. Day stated in an interview that the Johnsons didn’t formally undertake Michael due to the “prolonged adoption course of.” Ms. Day declined to say whether or not Michael was utilizing “Johnson” as his surname.

Michael couldn’t be reached for remark.

Mr. Johnson has spoken publicly about Michael largely when he has talked about race. He has described Michael as a “success story” and likened the expertise of being a white couple adopting a Black teenager to the film “The Blind Facet,” the 2009 movie that depicts a rich white household taking in an impoverished Black teenager who turns into a soccer star.

In his testimony on racial reparations earlier than a subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Johnson stated that Michael, too, opposed reparations as a result of it defied an “necessary custom of self-reliance.” Mr. Johnson’s feedback drews boos from supporters of reparations within the listening to.

Black lawmakers in Congress, who’re overwhelmingly Democratic, didn’t welcome Mr. Johnson’s rise. The Congressional Black Caucus issued a statement this week upon Mr. Johnson’s election to the speakership describing him as “a Trump-backed extremist who needs to criminalize abortion and lower applications like Social Safety and Medicare.”

Mr. Johnson’s remarks on race have additionally drawn criticism from the fitting. In a 2020 interview on PBS, he spoke with the journalist Walter Isaacson about racial tensions in America within the fast aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer. Mr. Johnson described the killing of Mr. Floyd as “an act of homicide,” and stated he had realized about racial disparities in America firsthand from elevating a Black son.

On the time, Mr. Johnson famous that his oldest organic son, Jack, was now the identical age as Michael was when he got here into the home. “And I’ve thought usually by means of all these ordeals during the last couple of weeks in regards to the distinction within the experiences between my two 14-year-old sons,” he stated within the PBS interview. “Michael being a Black American and Jack being white Caucasian. They’ve completely different challenges. My son Jack has a better path. He simply does.”

When he was nominated for Home speaker this month, Mr. Johnson — a hard-line conservative whose election to the brand new put up has been applauded by the conservative motion — earned for these remarks uncommon criticism from the fitting, which considered them as an acknowledgment of systemic racism.

Matt Walsh, a right-wing podcaster on The Day by day Wire, wrote on X that Mr. Johnson’s feedback about Mr. Floyd amounted to a “full fledged endorsement of the Left’s racial narrative” and referred to as the 2020 interview “utterly disqualifying.”

Laura Loomer, a far-right ally of Donald J. Trump, accused Mr. Johnson of being an “undercover Democrat,” asking in a put up on X: “What sort of MAGA Republican says one thing like this?”

However when requested in regards to the criticism in his first lengthy interview since turning into speaker, Mr. Johnson appeared to downplay the position he believes race performed within the lives of Jack and Michael.

“Having raised two 14-year-old boys in America and the state of Louisiana, they’d completely different experiences,” he advised the Fox Information host Sean Hannity on Thursday. “And I’m not so certain it was all about pores and skin colour, however it’s about tradition and society. Michael, our first, got here from a very troubled background and had plenty of challenges.”

Ken Bensinger contributed reporting.

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