After Weeks of Infighting, Republicans Elect Mike Johnson as House Speaker

Louisiana conservative thrust to seat of power despite minimal leadership experience

  • Published In: Politics
  • Last Updated: Oct 26, 2023

After 22 days of intense party infighting, Louisiana Republican Mike Johnson — a deeply conservative lawmaker who was involved in efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election — was elected House speaker on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

By Jacob Gardenswartz

Special to the Wyoming Truth

WASHINGTON — After more than three weeks of bitter infighting and chaos brought on by the ouster of their chamber’s former leader, Republicans on Wednesday elected little-known Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) as the 56th Speaker of the House, thrusting a deeply-conservative lawmaker who was at the forefront of GOP efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election to among the most powerful leadership positions in the nation.

Johnson’s election capped off an unprecedented 22-day period on Capitol Hill, which began after a group of disaffected Republicans banded with Democrats to force the removal of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and proceeded as the party voted down three of his top deputies who ran to succeed him. Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and GOP Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) did not win  the requisite votes of their Republican colleagues to earn the speakership; Emmer removed his name from consideration on Tuesday mere hours after he received the GOP nomination and after former President Donald Trump voiced his opposition to his candidacy.

Johnson, who in Tuesday’s closed-door GOP deliberations won the second most votes after Emmer, was seen as something of a last-ditch option for House Republicans. Had he failed to win the floor vote, some moderate members were expected to work with Democrats to end the stalemate and elect a speaker on a bipartisan basis.

In a Wednesday afternoon vote, Johnson was elected with a vote of 220-209, with all Republicans backing him and all Democrats supporting Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).

“I think all the American people at one time had great pride in this institution. But right now, that’s in jeopardy,” Johnson said in remarks from the floor moments after his election. “This body of lawmakers is reporting again to our duty stations. Let the enemies of freedom around the world hear us loud and clear: The People’s House is back in business.”

Appearing on CNN this weekend, former Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney said efforts to object to the Electoral College results should be a “disqualification” for speaker. (Photo via YouTube / CNN)

Hageman sees in Johnson a conservative ally

Despite her deeply conservative background and close ties to the House Freedom Caucus predominantly responsible for McCarthy’s ouster, Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-Wyo.) did not vote to remove McCarthy and supported each of the party’s speaker nominees in public votes.

Behind the scenes, however, she continually advocated for empowering a more conservative leader according to the other lawmakers present and her statements explaining her votes. Immediately following McCarthy’s removal, she came out in support of Jordan. When it became clear he could not win the 217 votes required to win the top House post, she publicly opposed empowering the interim Speaker Pro Tem Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), one idea widely floated within the conference.

“Kicking the can down the road has never worked for Congress before,” she wrote in an email to supporters last weekend. “The position of Speaker should not be temporary or limited in scope – we must have a duly elected Speaker and quickly move forward with our work.”

During Tuesday’s GOP “candidate forum” — a closed-door meeting where the nine Republicans then vying for the speaker post made their case — Hageman repeatedly backed her Judiciary Committee colleague Johnson, describing him as “the only one to present a roadmap for the remainder of the 118th Congress.”

Hageman celebrated his election in a post-vote statement on Wednesday. “[Johnson] will fight for our Constitutional rights and for a limited federal government, which are also the same ideals that we hold in Wyoming,” she said in the statement. “I look forward to being a strong ally of our new Speaker in this fight, which is one that we can and must win.”

A speaker was elected, but things won’t get any easier

Though it may not have seemed like it, electing a new speaker was the easy task for the GOP House. Now comes the hard part: leading a deeply-fractured party and Congress through a series of domestic and international crises.

Federal government funding will expire in just over three weeks, and the speaker saga meant little—if any—work on appropriations matters took place during the past month.

In his pitch to win over skeptical colleagues, Johnson proposed a detailed schedule for addressing the funding debacle, including endorsing the idea of passing another continuing resolution to extend funding through the end of the year and give lawmakers more time to pursue appropriations through regular order.

“[I]f another stopgap measure is needed to extend government funding beyond the November 17 deadline, I would propose a measure that expires on January 15 or April 15 (based on what can obtain Conference consensus), to ensure the Senate cannot jam the House with a Christmas omnibus,” Johnson wrote. He also suggested canceling next year’s August recess should lawmakers fail to approve all 12 appropriations bills by then.

Johnson, who has never served in a top leadership post nor chaired a committee, will now regularly meet with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and President Joe Biden. While McCarthy and his deputies had years of deal-making with those officials to build upon, Johnson will effectively start from scratch.

Those officials don’t seem intent on easing him in.

Biden in a statement promised to work in “good faith” with Johnson and called him to offer congratulations after the vote, the White House said. But the president stressed that he expects the new speaker to “work with me and with Senate Democrats to govern across the aisle.”

“[B]ipartisanship is the only way we can deliver results for the American people,” Schumer echoed in a statement.

Even friendly Republicans such as Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso see Johnson as an open question mark. “I don’t know him,” Barrasso told Politico of the new Speaker. “I know what I’ve read in the paper.”

Democrats highlight Johnson’s views on social policies, 2020 election

Democrats were quick to highlight how Johnson’s fiercely conservative ideology puts him at odds with a majority of Americans on some key issues. Johnson is staunchly anti-abortion and opposes gay marriage, going so far as to voice support for criminalizing gay sex at multiple times earlier in his career.

A close Trump ally, Johnson also was a key architect of House Republicans’ effort to boost Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election results. He led an amicus brief signed by 100 of his colleagues backing a Texas lawsuit that attempted to invalidate Biden’s victory in four key swing states, and was described by the New York Timesas “the most important architect of the Electoral College objections.”

Such reports were circulated by allies of former Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) after Johnson’s nomination, and Cheney has said that voting to object to the Electoral College results in 2020 should be a “disqualification” in the speaker’s race.

“To what extent can you trust this group of Republicans to defend the Constitution if they’re unwilling to even acknowledge the rulings of the courts,” she posed on CNN. Her spokesman did not respond to an inquiry about Cheney’s views of the new speaker.

Asked by an ABC reporter about his previous election efforts in a Capitol Hill press conference Tuesday evening, Johnson shook his head and responded “next question” as his colleagues booed the reporter. He did not take questions from press Wednesday after his election as House speaker.

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