Peter Johnson Jr., the Fox News analyst who reportedly serves as network chairman Roger Ailes' on-air “mouthpiece,” has repeatedly urged Senate Republicans not to proceed with their unprecedented strategy to obstruct President Obama's forthcoming Supreme Court nominee.
Following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Senate Republicans embarked on an extreme plan to refuse to consider any nominee Obama might make to replace him. On February 22, Senate Republicans announced that they would refuse even to hold hearings to consider any Obama nomination.
Some right-wing commentators have urged the GOP to carry out this extreme effort. But the plan has received a mixed response from Fox News, with some commentators urging Republicans to “stand firm,” while others have said that the senators are “making a mistake.” Johnson has been the network's most vehement opponent of the GOP's strategy, using a series of Fox & Friends appearances to castigate the party for its “unprecedented” acts.
On February 16, after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stated that Scalia's seat “should not be filled until we have a new president,” Johnson told the hosts of Fox & Friends that “Republicans have to recalibrate immediately” and admit they made a mistake, adding: “It's not smart. It's not good for our future. It's not good for our governance, and it's not good for the notion that this government is responsive to the needs of the people. We need a Supreme Court with nine folks on it. It's that simple. They need to step it back today.”
The next morning, Johnson praised Judiciary Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) for walking back his initial statement that the next president should be the one to fill the vacated Supreme Court seat (Grassley would later re-reverse his position). Johnson explained, “Republicans are stepping it back because they don't want to be seen as obstructionist. They don't want to be harassed by editorial boards or commentators like me yesterday that said, listen, step it back.”
And today, after McConnell announced that an Obama nominee would not even receive a hearing before the Judiciary Committee, Johnson said that the move was “unprecedented in American history” and “might be a constitutional crisis.” He added that the move was a partisan effort to ensure “the survival of the Republican Party” at a time when conservative activists are angry with the GOP, and concluded, “The pressure will mount every day when the Republicans refuse to even shake hands or say hello to that presidential nominee.”
Johnson is not just any Fox News contributor -- he is Ailes' personal lawyer and has been identified as a key confidante of the Fox News chairman as well as his on-air “mouthpiece.” Johnson reportedly confers with Ailes regularly and then voices his opinions over the network's airwaves.
New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman, who subsequently authored a biography of Ailes, reported in 2012 (emphasis added):
But if you want to know what Roger Ailes really thinks about the news these days, here's a tip: Pay close attention to Peter Johnson Jr., Fox News' legal analyst. The Columbia-educated lawyer is certainly not as familiar to most viewers as Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity, but inside the network, Johnson has become, in many respects, more influential, thanks to his ties to Ailes. To understand Fox right now, you have to understand the unique role Peter Johnson Jr. has come to play in Ailes's inner circle.
Consider this: Johnson is an on-air pundit, weighing in on topics as varied as Trayvon Martin, Occupy Wall Street, Obamacare, and Benghazi. He is a regular fill-in host on Fox & Friends. And he is Ailes's personal attorney who negotiated the network chief's new four-year contract with News Corp., said to be worth upward of $30 million a year. Fox executives frequently find Johnson conferring with Ailes privately. “He is a fixture in Ailes's office,” one Fox source explained.
But Johnson's value to Ailes extends far beyond his work as a lawyer. This election season, when Ailes has a message to communicate, chances are that it is Johnson who articulates it on air. One insider told me that Johnson is allowed to use the teleprompter to read from scripts, a perk which is normally reserved for Fox hosts. “Johnson has a rare privilege other contributors don't have,” the source said. “He can load a script directly into the teleprompter. So it's not even Ailes unplugged. It's Ailes plugged in ... It's why he sounds like Roger.”
When Roger Ailes thinks a Republican political strategy is too extreme, the GOP has a problem.