Robert D. Mather, Ph.D.

The Conservative Social Psychology Blog
Kelly Johnston Interview (EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Kelly Johnston, 28th Secretary of the United States Senate

Kelly Johnston was the 28th Secretary of the United States Senate, and the second youngest ever selected (1995-1996) to the position. He was born in Edmond, OK and attended the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma. Early in his career he served as a newspaper reporter and editor in Oklahoma. He held a number of notable Republican administrative positions during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. He worked on 35 congressional campaigns in 25 states over 25 years. He gives insightful political commentary at his newsletter (Against the Grain). I had the opportunity to interview him. Here is our discussion. Follow this link for my previous interview with him in September of 2020.  


RM: Will you place the events of January 6 th in a historical context of similar events that have occurred at the U.S. Capitol? What has been the traditional structural relationship between the Capitol Police and the Senate?

KJ: The US Capitol is no stranger to violent events. Several come to mind. Of course, the British invasion and burning of the Capitol in 1814. The shooting of a former Congressman turned lobbyist by a Louisville Courier reporter, Charles Kincaid, in 1889. The Puerto Rican nationalist shooting of the House chamber during a roll call vote in 1954. But most recently, in November 1983, a female-led domestic terror group bombed the Senate side of the Capitol (and many other places in Washington, DC) that was connected to the infamous Weather Underground. No one was harmed in the 1983 event and the people behind it were never sentenced - they were serving time for other crimes. President Clinton commuted the sentence of one of the bombers, Susan Rosenberg, on the last day of his presidency.

As for January 6th, there is still much that we do not know. What makes this event noteworthy is that it disrupted and potentially threatened a constitutionally-required certification of the electoral college results that would occur later that day, unimpeded. We know that the response to the violent event, in which 140 police were injured and one protester was killed, was encircling the Capitol with concertina wire and fencing along with 25,000 National Guard troops for at least 3 months. We know is that none of the perpetrators was armed with more than bear spray and an occasional baseball bat. We know that Democrats feverishly politicized the tragic and violent events of that day to undermine the credibility of any official investigation. The Capitol Police remain mostly silent, misinformation is abundant. We are learning that the Capitol police had intelligence warning of the worst actors. Many of the facts remain in dispute, many of the perpetrators are now viewed by a large percentage of Americans as political prisoners. I fear that we may never have a credible official account of what truly transpired. And that is the most tragic element of the event, aside from the death and injuries.


RM: Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, and Mitch McConnell were all in Washington when you were there. What is your take on each of them?

KJ:  First, I respect them all, as I do all members of Congress (to varying degrees - respect does not equal agreement). Nancy Pelosi usually has an iron grip on her caucus and legendary legislative skills, but she appears to have become captive of the most radical elements of her caucus today, the 95-member House Progressive Caucus. It must frustrate her. Sen. Schumer - and I hate to say this - is the worst Majority Leader in recent history. His appreciation for the history and culture of the Senate appears tepid at best, and he seems more interested in the politics than the substance of issues. He is always trying to push the envelope to push his caucus' agenda. I'm told that he has little ability to say "no" to his colleagues, which is both an art and essential skill of a floor leader. All floor leaders are largely political creatures but Sen. Schumer is deeply consumed by the acquisition and maintenance of political power for his party. He would jettison many of the long-standing rules if he could to advance his "agenda." Only a handful of Democrats seem to be reigning him in.

Sen. McConnell, on the other hand, whom I have known for 30 years is the most effective leader of the Senate, minority or majority, in my lifetime. He reveres and protects the institution, respects and honors the history of the Senate, all while expertly advancing his agenda. He guesses wrong on the politics sometimes, and yes, he famously broke with Donald Trump over January 6th. But his legislative mastery is legendary, and deservedly so.


RM:  I met Jim Inhofe a few weeks ago and was impressed. He was elected during the famous 1994 election that was so favorable for Republicans. I cast my first ballot for him in that election. What was he like to work with early in his Senate career?

KJ:   I never worked with him in the US Senate per se, other than as Secretary of the Senate, but I was proud to work closely with him during his first races for the US House (1986) and the Senate (1994). I traveled extensively with him during the final month of the latter campaign, when he flipped a 12-point polling deficit into a 13-point victory that November. It was astounding and was the definitive election that officially turned Oklahoma from a Democratic to a Republican state. A lot of people thought he would not be a good Senator, given the perception of him as a conservative "bomb thrower," but he is highly and widely respected as a serious and substantive legislator and author, both on environmental issues and now national defense concerns. He works well with his colleagues from both parties. He is now the longest-serving Republican Senator in Oklahoma history.


RM:  What is the filibuster and why is it such a big deal?

KJ:  The "filibuster" has evolved over time, but essentially it means the three-fifths supermajority requirement under the roles to end debate and force a final vote on most legislative items. There are exceptions, including budget votes under the 1974 Budget Act and, now, the executive branch and judicial nominations. A supermajority requirement to end debate and bring a matter to a close has been the Senate's custom, if not its rules, since 1804. Then-Vice President Aaron Burr persuaded Senators to eliminate the motion for "the previous question" which only required a majority vote to stop amendments and bring a bill to a final vote. That motion is still part of the House rules. It is a big deal for a few reasons. First, Senate has long preserved the ability for full and open debate, and for all Senators to be heard. Rule XXII protects the ability for every senator to be heard at least twice on any matter before debate can be ended. Second, the filibuster is part of the Senate's "purpose" to cool the passions of the day and distinguish itself from the majoritarian House by protecting "minority" rights. Lastly, it forces bipartisan compromise on major legislative issues and protects politics and partisanship from running roughshod over Congress.


RM:  The mid-term elections are coming in 2022. What should Republicans expect at the local, state, and federal levels?

KJ:  It is way too early to tell, but the President's and his party's polling descent is almost unprecedented and almost impossible to win back. Events in Afghanistan began the slide but have only been confirmed by the onerous vaccine and school mask mandates and his surrender to the most extreme elements of his party. The gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey are instructive - both Republicans were trailing by double digits as recently as August, and we now know what happened - they exceeded expectations, even dramatically, thanks to a massive shift of suburban Republicans back to their party, coupled with independents. I see no reason to believe that things will change, but a year is a couple of lifetimes in politics, and Republicans must be careful not to overplay their hand.


RM:  The GOP has always been a large tent. How do the Bush Republicans and the Trump Republicans find common ground and move forward together in advancing conservative platforms?

KJ:  Republicans have long struggled with the notion of a "big tent," which derives from the late GOP national chairman and longtime political consultant, Lee Atwater, in reference to George H. W. Bush's successful presidential win in 1988. The big tent failed them in 1964 with Barry Goldwater, but Ronald Reagan was able to make it work mostly in opposition to failed Democratic policies and politicians (e.g., Jimmy Carter). Virginia GOP gubernatorial nominee (winner?) Glenn Youngkin was able to unite both pro-Trump and anti-Trump Republicans, along with fickle independent voters over issues that mobilized voters, like education and crime. An anti-Biden sentiment, given his mismanagement of foreign policy, the economy, and overall weakness was also a factor. Republicans are very good (as are Democrats) at unifying in opposition. 2022 and perhaps 2024 will prove no different.

Add a Comment

(Enter the numbers shown in the above image)