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Speaker's speech

Mike Johnson channels Ronald Reagan while touting Trump’s foreign policy

Johnson: ‘We are realists. We don’t seek out a fight, but we’re always prepared to fight, and if we must fight, we fight with the gloves off.’

Andrew Harnik/Getty Images

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) speaks at the Hudson Institute on July 8, 2024 in Washington, DC.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) made the case for a conservative foreign policy doctrine in a Monday speech at the Hudson Institute that echoed former President Ronald Reagan’s “peace through strength” mantra, while endorsing former President Donald Trump’s worldview.  

In his first major foreign policy address as speaker, Johnson argued that Trump is seen as a strong leader because of his tough stances against China and Iran, and explained that while the GOP is not a party “of nation builders and careless interventionists, nor are we idealists who think we can placate tyrants.”

“We are realists. We don’t seek out a fight, but we’re always prepared to fight, and if we must fight, we fight with the gloves off. And today, when our adversaries don’t need to cross oceans to harm our people, we need a new policy of peace through strength for the 21st century,” Johnson said.

Johnson, who drew the ire of the isolationist wing of his party for backing aid to Ukraine, said that he plans to press NATO members at this week’s summit in Washington on the need for countries to meet their minimum spending commitments. The House speaker pointed to Trump’s efforts to ensure all allies “pay their fair share” as reason to continue the practice.

Republicans, Johnson said, “believe NATO needs to be doing more. Every NATO member needs to be spending at least 2% of their GDP on defense. It is no longer acceptable that not all NATO members have reached their current commitment. It may even need to be closer to levels during the Cold War, but if we’re all going to enjoy a future of peace and prosperity, we all need skin in the game.”

“As I meet with NATO delegations this week, I plan to raise this very serious issue with each one of them,” he explained. 

Taking aim at President Joe Biden’s handling of geopolitical affairs, Johnson said that “weak presidents” have allowed foreign threats “to metastasize.”

“During the Obama administration, we saw eight years of international apology tours, the sequestration of our military, the buildup of ISIS, Russia’s invasion into Crimea, the spread of malign Chinese influence across the globe and a nuclear deal that gave Iran everything they wanted. Today, the same failures we saw under Obama, have happened under Joe Biden, because he’s empowered an out-of-touch foreign policy establishment whose agenda is to once again appease, apologize and accommodate,” Johnson said. 

“He doesn’t treat China like an enemy,” he said of Biden. “He’s stopped supporting Israel and has cozied up to Iran to revive the failed nuclear deal. And, in the most inexplicable policy imaginable, he’s opened our borders wide to spies and terrorists, while reducing sanctions on the Latin dictators who wreak havoc in our backyard. And now look where we are,” he continued. “Obama’s weakness invited aggression, and Biden’s weakness has fueled that aggression like nothing we’ve seen since World War II.”

The House speaker also bemoaned the rise of “‘America Last’ bureaucrats” who have “regained power under Joe Biden,” thus inviting “aggression from our enemies.”

“In the coming months, we have a chance to change course,” he said, referencing the November election. “You’re seeing a groundswell among the American people. I think people recognize this intuitively, and the momentum is on our side. I’m increasingly optimistic. I’m very hopeful.”

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