U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., left, shakes hands with Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky., as the House of Representatives holds an election for a new speaker of the House at the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 25, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
UPDATED at 4:20 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023 with comprehensive information.
WASHINGTON — U.S. House Republicans on Wednesday voted for Louisiana’s Mike Johnson as speaker in a chamber that has been frozen for more than three weeks after former Speaker Kevin McCarthy was ousted.
In a 220-209 party-line vote, all Republicans present backed Johnson, 51, a strongly conservative lawyer who represents northwest Louisiana’s 4th District. All Democrats present voted for Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York.
Former President Donald Trump, the leading Republican candidate for the 2024 presidential race, immediately congratulated Johnson on social media, declaring that he will be a “GREAT ‘SPEAKER.’”
As Trump contested the 2020 election, Johnson was one of more than 100 House Republicans who voted to block Pennsylvania and Arizona’s presidential results following the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
In advance of the joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, Johnson also led a statement with 36 fellow Republicans outlining opposition to the Electoral College results in Georgia and Michigan as well.
Following Wednesday’s vote for speaker, Johnson quickly scheduled a vote on a resolution in support of Israel.
“We stand at a very dangerous time. I’m stating the obvious, we all know that. The world is in turmoil, but a strong America is good for the entire world,” said Johnson, the first House speaker from Louisiana.
Working with Democrats
Johnson, who was praised by his colleagues for unifying a fractured and divided GOP conference, will now need to seek the cooperation of Democrats as Congress risks another partial government shutdown in less than a month.
“I’ve known Mike since I was in the state House. He’s an incredibly hard worker, very passionate about this country. And we have a very similar approach to getting our country back on track,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana — an unsuccessful candidate for speaker — said following Johnson’s election.
Johnson, who does not have a strong bipartisan track record, will be tasked with working with the Democratic-controlled Senate on a quickly approaching Nov.17 government funding deadline to prevent a government shutdown, and critical legislation such as the recent nearly $106 billion supplemental request from the Biden administration to fund Ukraine, Israel and global aid and U.S. border security.
“I look forward to meeting with Speaker Johnson soon to discuss the path forward to avoid a government shutdown,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said in a statement following Johnson’s election.
“When I meet with him, I will convey that bipartisanship is the only way we can deliver results for the American people. The only way to avoid a government shutdown, pass critical supplemental funding, and deliver common-sense investments to the American people is bipartisanship.”
Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik of New York nominated Johnson, saying the conservative congressman “epitomizes what it means to be a leader.”
“Today is the day that House Republicans will humbly look in our hearts and elect Mike Johnson as speaker of the people’s House,” Stefanik said.
Democratic Conference Chair Pete Aguilar of California nominated Jeffries, calling him a “far contrast from who Republicans nominated.”
“The most pressing needs of everyday Americans are his North Star,” Aguilar said.
The GOP’s weeks-long search for a new speaker “has been about one thing, this has been about who can appease Donald Trump,” Aguilar said.
The House had been without a speaker for 22 days.
During his work in Congress, he’s opposed reinstating a pre-clearance section of the Voting Rights Act, arguing that the federal government should not get involved in local elections.
He’s railed against the Department of Justice, criticizing Attorney General Merrick Garland for a memo that outlined concerns about violence at school board meetings at the height of the pandemic, when many schools implemented masking requirements.
Johnson also led a successful resolution designed to draw attention to incidents of vandalism and arson at anti-abortion pregnancy centers and other anti-abortion organizations.
Johnson, with his legal experience, has spent most of his time in Congress working on the Judiciary Committee, although he also serves on Armed Services. He’ll now have to pass legislation from agriculture to defense to foreign policy, while also undertaking massive fundraising to help expand Republicans’ majority. He also sits on the newly formed Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government.
Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma said he’s not concerned about Johnson’s lack of experience in agriculture policy, as Congress works to pass a massive five-year farm bill that touches everything from food nutrition to providing crop insurance for farmers to establishing conservation benefits.
“Agriculture is very important in Republican districts and very important to consumers all around the world,” Lucas said. “I would say this is just one of those issues where we see maturity out of what I believe is a mature speaker.”
For the past year, Johnson has led a panel on limited federal government, where during one hearing he argued that parents should not be allowed to let their transgender children have access to gender-affirming care. Johnson’s home state of Louisiana allows for a ban on gender-affirming care for youth.
Rising through the ranks
Johnson, who was elected to an open seat in Congress in 2016, has quickly ascended the ranks, serving as the chair of the conservative Republican Study Committee, and holding a position as vice chair of the Republican Policy Conference.
Johnson has a robust though not perfect conservative record, earning a rating of 92% for his entire time in Congress from the American Conservative Union.
Johnson, who was the fourth GOP nominee for the speakership, will have to walk a tightrope while establishing a relationship with the White House and wrangling in those same far-right members who ousted McCarthy in early October.
Those who voted to throw out McCarthy gathered on the steps of Capitol Hill, and praised Johnson’s election as speaker.
“We have a guy who is honest, who’s going to tell the truth, and will be trustworthy not just in the (Republican) conference, but in the House,” said South Carolina’s Nancy Mace, who voted with seven Republicans to strip McCarthy of his position.
Florida’s Matt Gaetz, who brought the motion to vacate McCarthy to the floor, said that he was pleased with Johnson’s plan to pass all 12 appropriation bills separately.
“He is going to drive us to single-subject spending bills,” Gaetz said. “That is aligned with what we’ve been fighting for this entire Congress.”
Following Johnson’s candidacy for speaker, he released a Dear Colleague letter outlining his legislative priorities for government funding, passing the five-year farm bill reauthorization, the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization and an annual defense policy bill.
In the letter, he supported a continuing resolution, or a CR, that would extend government funding until either Jan. 15 or April 15, while the House continues to work on the 12 appropriations bills.
“I am confident we can work together to accomplish that objective quickly, in a manner that delivers on our principled commitments to rein in wasteful spending, and put our country back on a path to fiscal responsibility,” he wrote in his letter.
In his letter, Johnson said he wants that CR so “the Senate cannot jam the House with a Christmas omnibus.”
Johnson voted against the last CR. The Senate is currently taking up a minibus of three spending bills.
Johnson, Biden and Trump
President Joe Biden congratulated Johnson in an official White House statement Wednesday.
“As I said when this process began, whoever the Speaker is, I will seek to work with them in good faith on behalf of the American people,” Biden said. “That’s a principle I have always held to, and that I’ve acted on – delivering major bipartisan legislation on infrastructure, outcompeting China, gun reform, and veterans care.”
“The American people have made clear that they expect House Republicans to work with me and with Senate Democrats to govern across the aisle – to protect our urgent national security interests and grow our economy for the middle class,” Biden continued.
As speaker, Johnson will also be tasked with certifying the electoral votes for the 2024 presidential election, and he’s already drawn criticism from the president’s campaign arm.
In a statement from the Biden-Harris 2024 re-election campaign, spokesperson Ammar Moussa said that Johnson’s “ascension to the speakership cements the extreme MAGA takeover of the House Republican Conference.”
The 2024 presidential election has been a strong undercurrent of the speaker’s race.
On his social media platform Truth Social, Trump praised Johnson’s victory, writing “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.”
One Republican, Ken Buck of Colorado, who criticized many of the candidates, especially Jordan, for amplifying falsehoods about the 2020 election, said that Johnson leading an amicus brief questioning election results was different from taking part in the 2021 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol.
“What he did was he went to the courts,” Buck said of Johnson. “That’s what the courts are set up for. It’s absolutely appropriate.”
Trump’s praise for Johnson’s election came a day after he admonished the House GOP’s previous choice for speaker, Majority Whip Tom Emmer, warning Republicans that electing him would be a “tragic mistake.”
Not able to convince members of the far right, Emmer, of Minnesota, did not call for a floor vote on his candidacy and dropped from the race after roughly four hours.
Johnson ran twice for the speaker’s gavel, first announcing his run last weekend after the GOP conference voted to toss aside Ohio’s Jim Jordan after he continued to lose Republican support with each vote for his nomination to lead the lower chamber.
Jordan was the second Republican nominee for the speakership following Scalise, who withdrew from the race.
Emmer, the No. 3 Republican, emerged Tuesday as the GOP’s third nominee to lead the House.
Emmer was one of the few candidates running for speaker who voted to certify the 2020 presidential election results.
“I firmly believe that with House Republicans now united and ready to get back to work, as our new speaker elect said, our best days still lie ahead,” Emmer said in a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
Samantha Dietel contributed to this report.
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