UPDATE: Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) won the vote for speaker, ending three-weeks of Republican intra-party divisions and bitter argument that paralyzed the House.
Johnson won 220 votes while Hakeem Jeffries drew 209 votes. The manual roll call was a contrast to previous ones, as Republicans were unified in their support of the Louisiana Republican, who is little known on the national stage. Yet late on Tuesday, he managed to win a GOP closed-door vote to win the nomination, with members quickly predicting that they would finally coalesce around a speaker candidate.
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“The challenge is great, but the time for action is now, and I will not let you down,” Johnson told members after taking the gavel. He said that the first bill he will bring to the floor will be a resolution in support of Israel. He also said that he planned to create a bipartisan commission on the national debt, and that as speaker he would be decentralizing power.
During his remarks, he went through some of his biography, including the story of when his father, an assistant fire chief in Shreveport, LA, was severely burned when he was a child. Johnson said his father died of cancer three days before he was elected in 2016.
There was a brief moment of unity when House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) introduced Johnson, as both Democrats and Republicans gave him a standing ovation. But Donald Trump’s hold on much of the GOP caucus was apparent only minutes before, when Jeffries, in his remarks, said he wanted to make “an observation about the state of our democracy: Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election.” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) then yelled at him, “point of order.”
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), chair of the House Republican Conference, nominated Johnson, casting him as a uniter and not a divider and a man of deep faith. “In the story of King David, we are reminded that man looks at the outward appearance, but ‘the Lord looks at the heart.’ Today is the day that House Republicans will humbly look in our hearts and elect Mike Johnson as Speaker of the People’s House,” she said.
As Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, nominated Jeffries for speaker, blasted Johnson as someone who spearheaded a “dangerous and baseless” lawsuit to overturn the 2020 election results. He also said that the Republicans protracted battle over who would be speaker was “about who can appease Donald Trump.
As the roll call was read, House Republicans cheered as three previous nominees, Steve Scalise, Jim Jordan and Tom Emmer, cast their ballots for Johnson. They also gave a standing ovation to Kevin McCarthy, who was ousted from the speakership earlier this month in a revolt from the right instigated by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL).
While it was pretty clear that Johnson would have the votes at the start of the roll call, Democrats took the opportunity to criticize his positions. As she cast her vote for Jeffries, Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN) wished a “happy wedding anniversary to my wife,” a veiled reference to Johnson’s opposition to same-sex marriage.
Democrats came under some criticism three weeks ago for not coming to the defense of McCarthy as he faced his ouster, on the theory that his replacement could be further to the right. Johnson may be that, but Democrats pushed back against that criticism by noting that McCarthy offered them nothing in return. McCarthy has continued to blame Democrats for joining with eight Republicans to oust him from his spot. He served only nine months in the role, which is second in line to the presidency.
Johnson’s success at winning the speakership was due in part to his relative anonymity: He hasn’t made enemies like some other media-satiated figures, like Jordan. Even some Republicans slipped up on his name. When she stood up to vote for Johnson, Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) at first voted for Mike Rogers, before correcting herself.
Johnson also showed some reticence about speaking to reporters, having declined to talk about policy on Tuesday evening. After his speaker victory, reporters were invited to attend a press conference outside on the steps of the Capitol. Surrounded by dozens of other members of the Republican conference, Johnson made short remarks, but then ignored journalists’ shouts to answer any questions. In the end, it wasn’t a press conference at all, but a victory lap.
PREVIOUSLY: Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) is seeking to escape the fate of three of his predecessors and win over almost all of the 221 Republican House majority to win the speakership today, bringing to an end a three-week crisis that has halted all work in the lower chamber.
A vote is scheduled at noon ET/9 a.m. PT, as a number of Republicans predict that Johnson will win on the first ballot. It’s expected that he can afford to lose only four votes, a slim margin that has sunk the candidacies of House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-MN).
Johnson is relatively little known outside of the Republican conference. Sen. Susan Collins (R-MI) told CNN’s Susan Fox that she didn’t even know much about him and would have a Google his name.
As he emerged as the party nominee, media outlets focused on his defense of Donald Trump as he sought to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Johnson also has backed a host of issues popular on the far right, including a nationwide “don’t say gay” bill to limit talk of sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools.
That is an advantage when it comes to drawing the support of the far right of the Republican conference, which has revolted time and again over speaker choices, including previous speaker Kevin McCarthy, they view as too beholden to the establishment.
Over the past three weeks, dozens of reporters have staked out the behind-closed-doors meetings of the GOP conference meetings, often gathering juicy details of shouting matches and other acrimony that show the divisions in the party. After Emmer was nominated speaker on Tuesday, it quickly became clear that he was having trouble winning over holdouts on the right, and his fate was sealed when Trump weighed in against him on his social media platform Truth Social. Emmer had voted to certify the results of the 2020 election in favor of Joe Biden, but in the days leading up to his speaker bid, he touted his “strong working relationship” with the former president.
By contrast, Trump today told reporters that Johnson would be a “fantastic” speaker.
Later on Tuesday, Republicans held another closed-door vote, this time picking Johnson. In contrast to previous speaker bids, there were signs that members, some of them frustrated by the spectacle of the speaker battle, were ready to coalesce behind him. As members grew more confident that Johnson would win in a House floor vote, they briefly opened up their meeting to reporters. Johnson gave brief remarks, but he declined to answer questions about his role in trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election. One member, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) snapped “shut up” at a reporter, ABC News’ Rachel Scott.
Many Republicans have described their inability to unite behind a speaker candidate as frustrating and a fiasco. CNN’s Jake Tapper called it a “clown car.” At the Capitol, the GOP’s search for a speaker dragged on for so long that even members of the Capitol Police joked among themselves that one of their ranks should seek the post.
Johnson serves as vice chair of the Republican conference, but if elected he will still be leapfrogging over a host of more experienced members for the top post in the House, which is second in line for the presidency. A religious conservative, he served as senior counsel and national media spokesman for the Alliance Defense Fund, which has fought same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption. He served in the Louisiana House from 2015 to 2017 before he was elected to Congress.
The new speaker will immediately be faced with daunting tasks, including a $105 billion Biden administration proposal to provide emergency funding to Israel and Ukraine, as well as for border security. While funding Israel has strong support in Congress, House Republicans increasingly have expressed skepticism about additional money for Ukraine or they oppose it.
Funding for the federal government also runs out on Nov. 17, meaning that Congress faces the prospect of another shutdown unless another budget resolution is passed.
Another challenge: Recovering from the bitter speaker battle. According to Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), in nominating Johnson during the GOP conference meeting, told members, “Trust has been broken and we have come to a standstill.”
The speaker also will have to jump into the fundraising cycle as the leading figure to raise money for GOP House candidates as they seek to keep their majority. Democrats already are determined to characterize Johnson as beholden to Trump.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries wrote on X/Twitter, “The twice impeached-former president ordered House Republicans to stop Tom Emmer and elevate a top election denier. Is anyone surprised that they complied?”
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