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In Peoria stop, Speaker Mike Johnson says this year's election is the most important of our lifetime

Illinois House candidate Joe McGraw (left), Illinois House Representative Darin LaHood and U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson in a conference room at the Four Points at Sheraton in Downton Peoria. They're speaking to press briefly before the Tazewell County Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day Dinner.
Collin Schopp
U.S. House candidate Joe McGraw (left), incumbent Rep. Darin LaHood and U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson in a conference room at the Four Points at Sheraton in Downton Peoria. They're speaking to press before the Tazewell County Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day Dinner.

Republican Mike Johnson predicts victory for his party in November.

During a visit to Peoria on Saturday, the Speaker of the House said he not only expected Donald Trump to return to the highest office in the United States, he expects Republicans to retake the Senate and expand their control of the House as well.

“People are just fed up. They’re fed up with the way that public policy has gone under President Biden and the Democrats in charge of the Senate and what they’ve done to every metric of public policy,” said Johnson. “They’re deeply concerned about the open border and the catastrophe that’s been for our country. They’re deeply concerned about the rising cost of living and rising crime and the weakness that we’re projecting on the world stage. They’re worried about the rise of antisemitism and wokeness, woke-ism, all the rest of it.”

Trump guilty verdict

The speaker, who took over the role last October after the ousting of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, said he’s not concerned about the impact this week’s guilty verdict in the New York criminal trial of former President Donald Trump will have on the election.

He cites a record amount of donations to Trump’s campaign following the trial.

“These are low-dollar donors online, but a vast number of people are giving for the first time because they’re motivated,” Johnson said. ‘So, I think this backfires fantastically on the Democrat party.”

Johnson said he doesn’t believe that Republicans decrying Trump’s trial as a “sham” or “rigged” are undermining the rule of law.

“This is something you expect in a banana republic, in a third-world country, not in the United States of America,” he said. “And I’m telling you, I am deeply troubled with people losing faith in our institutions.”

Trump was found guilty of 34 counts of falsifying business documents by a jury in a New York courtroom Thursday. Amid accusations from Republicans of targeted “law-fare,” the Biden administration has repeatedly denied any involvement in the state-level case.

However, Johnson attributes the verdict to the actions of “rogue prosecutors” like Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. In the days following the verdict, Johnson suggested the Supreme Court should “step in” to undo it. His intentions fall short of bringing the matter to the Supreme Court himself.

“It’s not my place to do so,” said Johnson. “But, I have said that, were I President Trump’s attorney…I would make an appeal to the Supreme Court.”

Johnson believes there should even be an expedited process to decide an appeal before the November election, comparing the matter to the Bush v. Gore decision concluding the 2000 Presidential Election.

17th District Illinois House Race

Johnson appeared along with 16th District U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood and 17th District candidate Joe McGraw ahead of the Tazewell County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner on Saturday.

McGraw, a retired judge, faces Democratic incumbent Eric Sorensen in November. Freshman Sorensen last won the seat with a 52-48 margin, filling an open spot left by retiring Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos. Bustos had also won decisive elections in the swing district, which elected her while also voting for Trump.

Johnson believes, despite a funding gap between the candidates, this election will be different. He calls Sorensen a “radical leftist.”

“I think [17th District voters] are going to look for somebody who is a grownup to represent them,” said Johnson. “Somebody who has a great resume and will be a great leader and, I think, will represent the real interest and values of the people in the district.”

McGraw did not comment during the short press availability Saturday. The Lincoln Day Dinner, and Johnson’s keynote speech, were not available to the press this year. Organizers say this was due to “venue restrictions” at the Four Points at Sheraton in Downtown Peoria.

Preparing for a Trump presidency

Expecting Republican control of the “levers of power” in November, Johnson is preparing for a first 100 days in the House that he describes as “aggressive.” Among the primary issues he plans legislative action on are border policy, energy security and cost of living.

Exact details on these policies are sparse, but Johnson says reducing taxes is key to returning to a state for American consumers similar to the first Trump presidency.

“We’re going to stamp out this antisemitism thing. We’re going to go into that cancel culture and the wokeness that has frustrated people so much,” he said. “You’re going to see America come back strong again.”

Johnson characterizes the upcoming election as “fateful,” a turning point deciding between Republicans looking to preserve “the foundational principles that made us the greatest nation in the history of the world” and Democrats trying to create “some sort of European-style socialist utopia.”

“We’re apt to say the next election cycle is the most important one of our lifetime,” said Johnson. “Everyone knows, this one truly is.”

Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.