Mike Johnson, a staunch conservative from Louisiana, is elected House Speaker with broad GOP support

Republicans eagerly elected Rep. Mike Johnson as House Speaker on October 25, elevating a deeply conservative but lesser-known leader to the seat of U.S. power and ending for now the political chaos in their majority.

Mr. Johnson, 51, of Louisiana, swept through on the first ballot with support from all Republicans anxious to put the past weeks of tumult behind and get on with the business of governing. He was quickly sworn into office.

“We are ready to get to work again,” he said after taking the gavel.

To the American people watching he said, “Our mission here is to serve you well and to restore the people’s faith in this House.”

A lower-ranked member of the House GOP leadership team, Mr. Johnson emerged as the fourth Republican nominee in what had become an almost absurd cycle of political infighting since Kevin McCarthy’s ouster as GOP factions jockeyed for power. While not the party’s top choice for the gavel, the deeply religious and even-keeled Mr. Johnson has few foes and an important GOP backer: Donald Trump.

“I think he’s gonna be a fantastic Speaker,” Mr. Trump said on October 25 at the New York courthouse where the former President, who is now the Republican front-runner for President in 2024, is on trial over a lawsuit alleging business fraud.

Three weeks on without a House Speaker, the Republicans have been wasting their majority status — a maddening embarrassment to some, democracy in action to others, but not at all how the House is expected to function.

Far-right members had refused to accept a more traditional Speaker, and moderate conservatives didn’t want a hard-liner. While Mr. Johnson had no opponents during a private party roll call late on October 24, some two dozen Republicans did not vote, more than enough to sink his nomination.

But when GOP Conference Chair Rep. Elise Stefanik rose to introduce Mr. Johnson’s name on October 25 as their nominee, Republicans jumped to their feet for a standing ovation.

“House Republicans and Speaker Mike Johnson will never give up,” she said.

The name of newly elected Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) is seen over the House Speaker’s office door in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. October 25, 2023.
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Democrats again nominated their leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, criticising Mr. Johnson as an architect of Mr. Trump’s legal effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election he lost to Democrat Joe Biden.

With Republicans controlling the House only 221-212 over Democrats, Mr. Johnson could afford just a few detractors to win the gavel. He won 220-209, with a few absences.

Mr. Jeffries said House Democrats will work with Republicans whenever possible for the “good of the country.”

Overnight the endorsements for Mr. Johnson started pouring in, including from failed speaker hopefuls. Rep. Jim Jordan, the hard-charging Judiciary Committee chairman, gave his support, as did Majority Leader Steve Scalise, the fellow Louisiana congressman, who stood behind Mr. Johnson after he won the nomination.

“Mike! Mike! Mike!” lawmakers chanted at a press conference after the late-night internal vote, surrounding Mr. Johnson and posing for selfies in a show of support.

Anxious and exhausted, Republican lawmakers are desperately trying to move on.

Mr. Johnson’s rise comes after a tumultuous month, capped by a head-spinning on October 24 that within a span of a few hours saw one candidate, Rep. Tom Emmer, the GOP Whip, nominated and then quickly withdraw when it became clear he would be the third candidate unable to secure enough support from GOP colleagues after Mr. Trump bashed his nomination.

“He wasn’t MAGA,” said Mr. Trump, referring to his Make America Great Again campaign slogan.

Attention quickly turned to Mr. Johnson. A lawyer specialising in constitutional issues, Mr. Johnson had rallied Republicans around Mr. Trump’s legal effort to overturn the 2020 election results.

Explained | Gaining the gavel: the role of the U.S. House Speaker  

Elevating Mr. Johnson to speaker gives Louisianians two high-ranking GOP leaders, putting him above Scalise, who was rejected by hard-liners in his own bid as Speaker.

Mr. Johnson is affable and well liked, with a fiery belief system, and colleagues swiftly started giving him their support.

“Democracy is messy sometimes, but it is our system,” Mr. Johnson said after winning the nomination. “We’re going to restore your trust in what we do here.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who led a small band of hard-liners to engineer Mr. McCarthy’s ouster at the start of the month, posted on social media that “Mike Johnson won’t be the Speaker the Swamp wants but, he is the Speaker America needs.”

Republicans have been flailing all month, unable to conduct routine business as they fight amongst themselves with daunting challenges ahead.

The federal government risks a shutdown in a matter of weeks if Congress fails to pass funding legislation by a Nov. 17 deadline to keep services and offices running. More immediately, President Biden has asked Congress to provide $105 billion in aid — to help Israel and Ukraine amid their wars and to shore up the U.S. border with Mexico. Federal aviation and farming programs face expiration without action.

Many hard-liners have been resisting a leader who voted for the budget deal that Mr. McCarthy struck with Mr. Biden earlier this year, which set federal spending levels that far-right Republicans don’t agree with and now want to undo. They are pursuing steeper cuts to federal programs and services with next month’s funding deadline.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia said she wanted assurances the candidates would pursue impeachment inquiries into Biden and other top Cabinet officials.

During the turmoil, the House was led by a Speaker pro tempore, Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., the bow tie-wearing chairman of the Financial Services Committee. His main job was to elect a more permanent Speaker.

Some Republicans — and Democrats — wanted to give Mr. McHenry more power to get on with the routine business of governing. But Mr. McHenry, the first person to be in the position that was created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks as an emergency measure, declined to back those overtures. He, too, received a standing ovation.

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